Mahoning Valley Health Departments Recommend K-12 Masking

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — In a joint statement issued Friday, the five health departments in the Mahoning Valley are supporting universal masking policies for K-12 schools for the new year.

In the release, Mahoning County Public Health, Youngstown City Health District, Columbiana County Health District, Trumbull County Combined Health District and Warren City Health District stated they support full in-person learning for the year. To ensure students are safe and to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the departments “strongly recommend schools follow CDC guidance and adopt universal masking policies for all students, teachers and staff regardless of their vaccination status,” according to the statement.

“Moreover, we are urging all parents to send their children to school properly wearing a facemask, covering the nose and the mouth, especially in situations where a school district has not adopted a universal mask policy,” according to the statement. “This will prevent your child from disruptions from in person class or sports when a positive COVID-19 case occurs.”

The health departments emphasize that the “fight against COVID-19 is not over,” and that emerging variants increase the risk of transmission and can result in worsening illness. The delta variant, which is becoming the dominant strain in Ohio, spreads quickly, according to the statement, so strategies to reduce transmission in schools “are critically important to protect students, teachers staff and communities.

“It is proven that masking reduces transmission of the virus which causes COVID-19 and it also protects those who are not vaccinated,” according to the statement. “Because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and as a state only half of our population is vaccinated, universal masking will add another layer of protection to keep our children in school.”

In the statement, the departments recommend a “multi-pronged, layered approach” to mitigation, including hand-washing and sanitizing, as well as proper respiratory etiquette, such as covering coughs and sneezes. Additional layers include good ventilation and maintaining at least three feet of social distance.

They also urge those eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

“Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the statement. “Your local public health departments continue to urge all eligible individuals to be vaccinated as soon as possible. Locate a vaccine at GetTheShot.coronavirus.ohio.gov or contact your local public health department.”

Senate Bill 22, which was enacted in June, prevents public health departments from issuing any kind of stay-at-home orders and gives the state legislature power to vote down health orders or emergency declarations without needing the approval of the governor.

The departments make clear the statement issued Friday are not orders but are “data-driven and science-based recommendations and they follow CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.” They acknowledge that the final decision regarding masks is made by the governing body of each school district.

The departments state they will continue to work closely with local school districts to monitor the COVID-19 situation and provide updated recommendations as appropriate.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.