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State health order will set up mechanisms, requirements for schools to report COVID-19 cases

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Posted at 3:10 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 15:55:44-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a state health order Thursday that would require schools in Ohio to establish a mechanism for parents to report COVID-19 cases in their students, then report that case to the local health department and alert the public without disclosing protected health information.

“Proper reporting to the public to parents will help prevent potential further spread among students and staff, and it will also let the public know what’s going on,” DeWine said. “So we’ll be issuing an order that requires schools to establish a reporting mechanism for parents to report cases.”

DeWine suggested a possible option for schools would be a phone hotline that parents would call and say that their child has tested positive for COVID-19.

Part of the order would be a requirement for K-12 schools to report cases in students or staff to the local health department as quickly as possible — DeWine said within 48 hours. Schools should also make information about a positive case publicly available and should notify parents and guardians in writing about the case, including as much information as possible without disclosing protected health information, by email, text, on the school’s website, or through a hard copy.

The local health department will then notify the Ohio Department of Health on a weekly basis about newly-reported cases in schools and cumulative case data for students and teachers. That data will be posted every Wednesday on the state’s coronavirus website.

DeWine said that this type of illness reporting is not a new thing at schools in Ohio – schools already report cases of head lice at school to parents, as an example.

“Prompt reporting will help prevent potential further spread among students and staff,” DeWine tweeted Thursday. “But remember: just because there is a case at a school, it doesn't mean the school has done anything wrong. The spread you see in the community will be reflected in the schools.”

In conversations the governor has had with superintendents and looking at the data gathered so far, he said that schools are by-and-large doing the best job they ca, whether they have opened to in-person class five days a week, on a hybrid system, or through fully remote learning.

“And you can still have COVID in the school and the real key, we’ve known all along, is how we handle it,” DeWine said.

When asked whether the order would include any requirements for actions to be taken once a positive case is reported, DeWine indicated there would not be specific requirements. He said the goal of the order is to put more information in the hands of parents, and while schools may exercise the option to go remote or quarantine a class in the event of a positive case, this order would not include these requirements.

When asked about specific "privacy guardrails" in the order, DeWine indicated that the order would follow state and federal medical privacy laws.

Although the order has not yet been written, DeWine said he wanted to announce that it was coming on Thursday to give schools and parents advance notice.