COLUMBUS, OH — Since introducing Ohio's coronavirus vaccination program, Gov. Mike DeWine has kept allowing the state's schools to safely return to in-person instruction a top priority when it becomes possible.
But after stating for months that the biggest risk in allowing K-12 students back to the classroom has to do with the need for students to quarantine after being exposed to other students who have tested positive for the coronavirus, DeWine on Wednesday announced a change in state guidance.
Citing studies done both in Ohio and across the country, DeWine and Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said that students who are exposed to classmates who test positive while in a classroom setting will no longer be recommended to quarantine for 14 days.
The change also requires that students were wearing face-coverings in the classroom as required by current state COVID-19 guidelines, the governor said. The governor said that the change in guidance will also not apply to students who are exposed to their classmates at non-classroom functions.
“Ultimately, this will be one more step to keep our students in the classroom where we want them to be,” DeWine said during a news conference on Wednesday.
DeWine praised school districts across Ohio for efforts in enforcing masking requirements as well as keeping students socially distanced while schools have met in-person. But after following quarantine guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until this point, DeWine said that the state will break from the CDC based on data that doesn't support classrooms playing a key role in the spread of the coronavirus, DeWine and Vanderhoff said.
The change comes after months after DeWine said he starting hearting from school officials across the state stating they do not believe that students who have been in close contact with infected students have become infected themselves. But without having data to support those claims, DeWine said Wednesday the state had no choice but to continue to follow CDC guidelines.
DeWine said the state partnered with researchers with the Ohio COVID-19 Evaluation Team to investigate infection rates at the state’s K-12 schools, DeWine said. Vanderhoff said Wednesday that the state’s feelings about student infection rate has now been substantiated by two new reports, including the Ohio data.
The Ohio research included the testing of 728 in seven school districts between Nov. 18 and Dec. 18. Among those tested were 524 students who were determined to be in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. The remaining students were either farther away from infected students while being in the same classroom or outside the classroom but in the same grade, Vanderhoff said.
Researchers found there was no discernable difference in infection rates between the exposed students and those who were not exposed with infection rates hovering around 3 percent, Vanderhoff said. Those tested involved students only in classroom settings and not in extracurricular settings, home, or community settings, Vanderhoff said.
A study conducted in Mississippi yielded similar results and said that students likely tested positive for the coronavirus after being exposed to family members rather than fellow students.
“Now, we have the data to tell us that school is the safest place for our students even in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic,” Vanderhoff said.
DeWine said he understands the emotional pain that has come with students not being able to participate in activities because they have been quarantined after being in close contact with students who have become infected. But the decision to change its stance on procedures came after receiving data backing up what school officials had told them.
“Their results support what we have been seeing and hearing anecdotally in our schools and that is as long as students in a classroom wear a mask, as long as they are mask compliant and do the best they can with social distance, they do not have an increased risk of catching COVID-19 from a nearby student who may have had it,” DeWine said.