In Late December, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine took to Twitter to share an update to his state’s recommendations on COVID-19 precautions in public schools — determining that, in cases where masking and distancing protocols were followed, students exposed to others who tested positive COVID-19 while in the classroom will not be expected to quarantine. DeWine said in a statement that these recommendations are based on preliminary results from state-conducted evaluations of transmission in schools that found that “if students in class are masked/distanced, they did not have an increased risk of catching the virus from a nearby positive student.”
These recommendations do hinge, as DeWine notes, on the requirement that masking and distancing are being followed — and that it doesn’t apply to after-school activities or incidents where students weren’t wearing masks or were exposed outside the classroom.
“Because of the data we now have, we’re changing our guidance and are no longer recommending that students who have been exposed to another COVID+ student quarantine — as long as all students have been wearing masks and the exposure took place in a classroom setting,” DeWine said. “Schools should continue to quarantine exposed students if masking/distancing protocols were not followed. This change doesn’t apply to after-school activities, including sports. Ultimately, this is one more step to keep our kids in the classroom – which is where we want them to be.”
Because of the data we now have, we’re changing our guidance and are no longer recommending that students who have been exposed to another COVID+ student quarantine – as long as all students have been wearing masks and the exposure took place in a classroom setting.
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) December 30, 2020
This information differs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for school exposure that are recommended via their official website. The agency states that, following a student being identified as testing positive for COVID-19 the following occurs: “Close contacts are notified, advised to stay home (quarantine for 14 days), and to consult with their healthcare provider for evaluation and determination if testing is recommended; Administrators or COVID-19 POC communicate with teacher(s), staff, and parent(s), guardian(s) or caregiver(s) the importance of COVID-19 mitigation strategies (e.g., staying home when sick, washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing); Members of the student(s)’ household are requested to quarantine for 14 days; Student(s) returns to school after meeting criteria for ending home isolation.”
As the virus is so new, the information we get on how it moves through different people’s bodies and through different communities has been ever-changing. The most recent data has shown that schools, when other protocols are followed, aren’t necessarily hotspots for the virus — but, of course, that doesn’t mean they do not play a role in spreading virus (children infected with COVID-19 carry just as much of the virus as adults, though they are less likely to become seriously ill).
Teachers in the area expressed concerns about how these recommendations differ from those of the CDC: “The fact that we are doing it simply as our state and not with national or international CDC guidelines makes me quite concerned,” Shari Obrenski of the Cleveland Teachers Union told a local ABC affiliate News5 Cleveland. “To separate out just one section of our society and say, ‘No, everything needs to follow CDC guidelines except for schools,’ I think is quite frankly a dangerous step.”
The anxiety felt by teachers has been an ongoing theme throughout conversations about schools reopening as it encompasses their own health risks, those of their families and those of their students. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in four teachers would be at risk of serious illness if they contracted COVID-19, due to age or pre-existing conditions. Plus, there’s the new normal of their day-to-day work including ensuring kids are complying with all masking and distancing recommendations while also attempting to teach (sometimes remotely and IRL), offer emotional support and even assist in sterilizing their environments.
“We can’t ignore the science. That removal of quarantine, it makes me uncomfortable because I don’t know the science of it,” Bonnie Monteleone, another area teacher, told the ABC affiliate. “But at the same time, I understand where the governor is coming from…It does make me nervous about who’s making the decision about whether or not the masks were worn and these other pieces are in place. I worry about my colleagues being put on the spot. Do I tell that the kid did drop their mask? Do I reveal that some kids don’t want to sneeze into their mask?”
While the emotional and infrastructural toll of schools being closed is one that is heavily felt by parents and students alike, determining the safest path forward (as cases continue to surge around the country and a loud sect of the population is reluctant to follow the mask and distancing guidelines) continues to be a challenge for state and federal officials.
“Everyone’s goal is to prioritize the reopening of schools as safely and as quickly as possible given the many known and established benefits of in-person learning. In order to enable this and assist schools with their day-to-day operations, it is important to adopt and diligently implement actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 inside the school and out in the community,” per the CDC. “Vigilance to these actions will moderate the risk of in-school transmission regardless of the underlying community burden – with risk being the lowest if community transmission is low and there is fidelity to implementing proven mitigation strategies.”
No matter what model your district chooses, you’ll probably need to stock up on some of these kids face masks.