Mask Order Expanded to All K-12 Students Returning to School

Updated 3:40 p.m., information from Ohio Emergency Management Agency
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With just a few weeks from the start of the school year, the Ohio Department of Health is expanding its order mandating masks to include all K-12 students who are returning to school for in-class learning.

In early July, the state passed an order requiring masks for all Ohio school staff and strongly recommending them for most students in third grade and up. During his coronavirus briefing, Gov. Mike DeWine said the order has been expanded to mandate masks for all students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“I know there is a great deal of frustration among Ohio citizens today because of the lack of certainty,” DeWine said. During a weekend conversation with medical experts, he says when trying to get some kind of certainty, they advise him “the community spread in that community will be reflected in that school.”

The decision to expand the order is based on conversations with the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the governor said. The goal is to provide a safe environment for students, teachers and every adult working in the school.

“Frankly, this gives us the best shot that we can,” DeWine said. “Along with the other things that schools are doing, which is keeping the distance, separation.”

In a letter from the organizations, they write that when worn properly with the nose and mouth covered, masks or facial coverings can help reduce the chances of an asymptomatic individual passing the virus to others.

“Families may have mixed feelings of their children wearing face coverings/masks and wonder if their child should be exempt from the practice,” the letter states.

Exemptions to the order include:

  • Kids under 2
  • Unable to remove the face covering without assistance
  • Child with significant behavioral/psychological issue undergoing treatment that is exacerbated specifically by the use of a facial covering (e.g. severe anxiety or a tactile aversion)
  • Child living with severe autism or with extreme developmental delay who may become agitated or anxious wearing a mask
  • A child with a facial deformity that causes airway obstruction

“Beyond these categories, there are no diagnoses that warrant blanket exemptions from wearing a face covering/mask,” the letter continues. “Specifically asthma, allergies and sinus infections are not a contraindication for using a face covering/mask.”

The DeWine administration is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency to distribute 2 million masks to schools for use by students and staff. The masks will be delivered to regional educational service centers for distribution. School districts should contact their ESC for information on how to acquire masks.

“With the opening of schools around the corner, we’re delighted these masks will be put to good use by Ohio schools,” said Ohio EMA Executive Director Sima Merick.

The KN-95 or KN-90 masks are not medical grade, according to FEMA and Ohio EMA. There are about 12,000 masks per each shipping pallet.

“The donated masks are another way the Department and so many education partners are working to ensure the health and safety of students, educators, and staff when school buildings reopen,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.