Gov. Mike DeWine has announced that per the joint recommendation of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an order is being issued statewide requiring the use of face coverings by all students K-12 returning to school this fall. 

“Schools and parents continue to work to make decisions on how to safely go back to school,” said Gov. DeWine during the Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 4 COVID-19 press conference. “I know there is frustration by the uncertainty. We cannot know what the next three weeks will bring, let alone the next three months, six months, or nine months of school. We’ve tried to give schools as much information as possible to help make decisions on how to move forward.”

One new piece of information is that of a new system, which ranks Ohio’s 88 counties by highest occurrence of the virus, showing each county’s amount of community spread in a two-week period.

“The amount of community spread in each county will determine what the school year looks like,” Gov. DeWine explained. “We can impact what the future will bring.”

According to this new ranking system, which considers every county’s total number of cases along with 100,000 of population regardless of the county’s actual population, Jackson County is at 60th (43 cases per 100,000 from July 21 to Aug. 3 and 14 actual cases in that same timeframe) and Vinton County is at 84th -- both out of 88 total Ohio counties. The county listed Tuesday as having the highest amount of occurrence was Mercer County.

Overall, Gov. DeWine described implementing the face covering policy statewide for K-12 students as “the best shot to keep Ohio’s kids and educators safe and physically in school.”

The only exceptions listed for mask usage by Ohio students in grades K-12 are: Children under the age of two; Any child unable to remove the face covering without assistance; A child with a significant behavior/psychological issue undergoing treatment that is exacerbated specifically by the use of a facial covering (e.g. severe anxiety or a tactile aversion); A child living with severe autism or with extreme developmental delay who may become agitated or anxious wearing a mask; or -- A child with a facial deformity that causes airway obstruction.

Just as uncertainty continues to plague the restart of schools this fall, the same is true for school sports, a topic Lt. Gov. Jon Husted addressed.

“I know there has been confusion about where things stand for school contact sports,” he stated. “On June 22, we allowed contact sports like football to resume practice. On July 4, a temporary order allowed a return to contact sport competitions under strict guidelines. That temporary order was renewed last week by [Ohio Department of Health] Director Himes. There has been some confusion that the renewal of this order represents the plan for return to competition for schools this fall. That is not the case.”

Lt Gov. Husted went on to say that state officials continue to work with the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) to finalize a plan and that options are still being considered that accommodate both health and practical considerations for athletes, coaches and fans.

“We understand the uncertainty and anticipation surrounding any forthcoming new guidance and there’s no one who wants to get this accomplished more than me,” he said. “We are working thoughtfully and aggressively to get these plans finalized.”

Lt. Gov. Husted also noted the state has received plans and had conversations with both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals to discuss plans for a return to play. He said while both teams are likely able to return to competition, plans on how to safely accommodate fans are still being reviewed.

An additional update Tuesday centered on gatherings of families, friends and churchgoers in Ohio. With regard to the faith-based community, Gov. DeWine announced his intent to pen a letter in an effort to share health information on how to best protect worshippers, after pointing to a study showing the spread of the virus to at least 91 different people resulting from just one person with COVID-19 attending a church service.

“Our religious faiths are at the core of our great state and country,” he said. “We thank our faith-based leaders for all they do to serve God and His people. However, it is vital to control the spread of the virus -- any time people gather together, including for religious services -- that everyone wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands, and also while indoors, making sure there is good ventilation and airflow.”

The governor went on to say that the state continues to “have a spread problem” because of informal gatherings among family and friends as well.

“The truth is – it’s easier to be scared of a stranger than a friend,” Gov. DeWine said. “Maintaining social distance and not gathering together might feel like you are not being friendly, but it’s really a sign of friendship and love. It shows that you want to protect them from getting sick.”

Gov. DeWine, near the end of the press conference, announced Ohio would be entering into a multi-state purchasing agreement with Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia to expand the use of rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests.

“This will help us detect outbreaks sooner with faster turnaround time; expand testing in congregate settings; and make testing more accessible for the most high-risk and hard-hit communities,” he explained. Scaling up the use of these rapid point-of-care tests will serve as an important screening tool and a critical addition to our plan to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

Regarding statistics, Gov. DeWine reported, as of Tuesday, there were (cumulatively) 90,041 confirmed cases in Ohio, 5,065 probable cases, 11,119 hospitalizations, 2,593 intensive care unit admissions, 3,301 confirmed deaths, 269 probable deaths and 71,338 presumed recoveries.

For more information visit coronavirus.ohio.gov.