Gov. Mike DeWine and children’s hospital leaders said other than vaccinations against COVID-19, wearing masks in the classroom is the best way to keep children in school.
“The data are now clear that there is a higher level of COVID in school districts where masks are not required,” DeWine said during a Tuesday afternoon press briefing.
Over a two-week period that ended Sept. 4, there was an average of 909 cases per 100,000 for school-aged children in Ohio, compared to 561 cases per 100,000 for all other Ohioans, he said. And this past week, there was a 44% increase in cases among school-aged children and a 17% increase for all others, according to Ohio Department of Health data. Also, there has been a 2,000% increase in cases among Ohio children since early July when the delta variant began to surge.
“All of our children’s hospitals are overwhelmed by increases in COVID cases as well as the other respiratory illnesses they are seeing,” said DeWine, who was joined by Dayton Children’s Hospital President and CEO Debbie Feldman and other Ohio Children’s Hospital Association members.
There were only two open beds at Dayton Children’s as of Tuesday, excluding the NICO and behavioral health departments, Feldman said.
The numbers of emergency room and urgent care center visits are staggering, she said, and is causing care delays for all sick or injured children, including some families in the waiting room who are leaving before their child is seen.
“The demand is creating an absolutely unsustainable pressure on our staff,” she said. “Until this surge declines, until we can get back into some manageable level of COVID, we need our children masked in school,” Feldman said.
The CEOs of all six Ohio children’s hospitals issued an appeal to school superintendents across the state for them to enact mask mandates in their buildings.
“The best thing for kids right now is for kids to be masked in school. All of them,” said Dr. Patty Manning, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s chief medical officer.
“Our inpatient numbers are the highest they’ve been. Our ICUs are caring for more patients than there’s ever been. More children are on ventilators than there has ever been. There are more children than ever entering our emergency departments and our urgent care centers. That impacts the care of all children, not just those that are COVID-19 positive,” she said.
While some may think masks are harmful to children, who have to wear them for up to six hours a day, with breaks, Manning ― who said she has a background in child development and child behavior — said that is not the case.
“I can promise you that claims that masks impact children either physically or emotionally, behaviorally, socially are simply false,” she said. “Children tolerate these masks very well, in many cases they tolerate these masks better than the adults in our lives.”
DeWine said he has not issued a mask order statewide or just for schools because the Ohio Legislature made it clear any health order would be removed, and the Legislature has the power to do so.
However, he said wearing a mask is the right thing to do to keep schools open and to better protect children.
“The most compelling argument is this: It is abundantly clear, by what we’ve seen in the first two, three weeks of school, that the way you keep kids in school is to keep them masked,” DeWine said. “Vaccinate them if you can vaccinate them, if they are 12 and above, and then if they’re not vaccinated, have them wear a mask.”
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