TOLEDO, Ohio — The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department on Thursday issued guidelines for local schools returning to in-person learning this academic year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The health department's guidance is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ohio Department of Health.
Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski noted, however, that each school district has the ability to adopt and implement its own policy surrounding mask use, outside of school transportation mandates.
The CDC recommends that schools follow COVID-19 prevention measures implemented during the 2020-2021 school year.
These prevention measures include:
- Universal and correct use of masks by staff and students and physical distancing of a minimum of 3 feet (6 feet preferred) in the classroom (6 feet required in some settings). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that all students (age 2 and older), along with staff, should wear masks in school, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use. "Universal masking provides protection against other respiratory illness that would also take time away from school," Zgodzinski said.
- Universal masking in all schools should be considered because a significant portion of the student population is not eligible for vaccination. The health department also cited the difficulty in monitoring or enforcing mask policies for unvaccinated individuals; the possibility of low vaccine uptake in the surrounding community; continued concerns for variants that spread more easily among children, adolescents, and adults; and protection against spreading other respiratory illnesses as reasons to mask up.
- Masks also should be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older, who are not fully vaccinated when around non-household members.
- The health department also strongly promotes vaccinations, saying vaccination "is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports."
- During school transportation, a CDC mandate applies to all public transportation conveyances including school buses. Regardless of the mask policy at school, passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC’s order. Masks are required regardless of vaccination status during transport.
- Multiple prevention strategies should be layered together to prevent COVID-19 spread, the health department said. These include vaccination, good ventilation, regular cleaning, masks, hand washing and respiratory etiquette (coughing/sneezing into elbow or tissue), contact tracing and monitoring, and staying home when sick.
- Schools also should require all parents, guests, and visitors to wear a mask and social distance when visiting the school regardless of vaccination status.
- Districts also are asked to encourage individuals to monitor for symptoms. Everyone with COVID-19 symptoms should stay home, contact their doctor, and get tested, the health department said.
- Schools are asked to offer distance learning or hybrid schedules for students required to isolate, quarantine, or who are medically fragile.
As far as contact tracing, the health department urges new cases and exposures to be reported to the local health department as soon as possible.
The health department further said the close contact quarantine exemption for students who are wearing masks and distanced at least three feet apart in the classroom does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.