COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine and medical leaders from around Ohio issued a renewed plea for more school districts to require masks for students and staff, citing the surge of the delta variant of COVID-19 among school-aged children and a direct appeal from the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association. In response to multiple questions during a Tuesday press conference about the possibility of a statewide mask mandate in schools, DeWine repeatedly cited a law passed by the Republican-led legislature preventing him from issuing any statewide health orders.
"If I could put on a statewide mandate of the health department to do it, we would do it," DeWine said. "What the legislature has made very clear is that if we put on a statewide mandate, they will take it off. They have the ability to do that. There is no 30-day waiting period. They can do it right away. And the legislature has made very clear that if we put on a mandate for kids in school to wear masks, that they will take it off."
DeWine said the best way to keep schools open and kids out of quarantine is to get all kids over the age of 12 to get vaccinated. But because those under 12 are too young to be vaccinated, “we need all students who come to school to wear a mask until we get through this.”
"Reasonable people may disagree about a lot of things during this coronavirus, but I think all of us, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, I think just about everybody in Ohio now agrees that we must do everything we can to keep our children in the classroom," DeWine said.
DeWine made it clear his administration will not issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, saying that the legislature has promised to strike down any mandate under a law preventing such health orders that was passed earlier this year over DeWine's veto. He said an attempt to issue that health order, and any proceeding legal fight over the order, would cause confusion and could do more harm than good.
Currently, about 54.4% of Ohio's public school students are under a mask mandate, DeWine said.
COVID-19 cases are increasing at nearly twice the rate among school-aged kids compared to the rest of the population, DeWine said, citing data from the Ohio Department of Health. In the past week, Ohio saw a 44% increase among school-aged children, versus a 17% increase in the rest of the population.
"The data are now clear that there is a higher level of COVID-19 in school districts where masks are not required," said DeWine. "If we want our schools to stay open, the best way to do that is for those 12 and over to get vaccinated. But because those under 12 are still too young to be vaccinated, we need students who come in to school to wear a mask until we get through this."
This surge is recent – DeWine said that 16 of the last 19 days have seen the highest number of daily cases for kids 5 to 17 since the start of the pandemic. The data clearly shows there is a higher level of COVID cases in districts where masks are not required, DeWine said.
"We know last year when our kids were in school and masked, we did not see this demand," said Debbie Feldman, President & CEO, Dayton Children’s Hospital. "We also know that masks do not harm children. They do not create illness in children, and they are what will work."
Feldman cited a recent study from Akron Children's Hospital that found of the 1,070 Summit County students who have had to quarantine in August, only 23 of them were in the four districts that required masking. According to the Akron-Beacon Journal, those districts account for 48% of public school students in Summit County, and only 3% of all students who were quarantined.
Children’s hospitals in Ohio are seeing an unprecedented increase in children diagnosed with respiratory illnesses, including RSV, which is typically a winter disease, said Paula Grieb, Chief Nursing Officer of ProMedica Russell J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital.
“We are being overrun at virtually all of our access points with sick children,” Grieb said.
Several representatives from children's hospitals appeared with the governor on Tuesday, none of them from Northeast Ohio.
Additional Coronavirus information and resources:
Download the News 5 app for free to easily access local coronavirus coverage, and to receive timely and limited news alerts on major COVID-19 developments. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.
See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.
Vaccinating Ohio - Find the latest news on the COVID-19 vaccines, Ohio's phased vaccination process, a map of vaccination clinics around the state, and links to sign up for a vaccination appointment through Ohio's online portal.
See data visualizations showing the impact of coronavirus in Ohio, including county-by-county maps, charts showing the spread of the disease, and more.
Rebound Northeast Ohio News 5's initiative to help people through the financial impact of the coronavirus by offering one place to go for information on everything available to help and how to access it. We're providing resources on:
Getting Back to Work - Learn about the latest job openings, how to file for benefits and succeed in the job market.
Making Ends Meet - Find help on topics from rent to food to new belt-tightening techniques.
Managing the Stress - Feeling isolated or frustrated? Learn ways to connect with people virtually, get counseling or manage your stress.
Doing What's Right - Keep track of the way people are spending your tax dollars and treating your community.
We're Open! Northeast Ohio is place created by News 5 to open us up to new ways of thinking, new ways of gathering and new ways of supporting each other.
View a map of COVID-19 testing locations here.
Visit Ohio's Coronavirus website for the latest updates from the Ohio Department of Health.
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.