DeWine urges Ohio schools to mandate masks
WHEELING — Gov. Mike DeWine is urging schools to implement mask mandates amid a “surge” of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Ohio.
DeWine held a press conference Friday morning at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport to discuss the rise in cases and its impact on the health care system. He said there are 3,080 people with COVID-19 in Ohio’s hospitals — 982 in intensive care units and 617 on ventilators.
“One out of every six people in our hospitals has COVID, and one out of every four in the state is in the ICU. These are stunning numbers, and there’s no part of the state that is really immune from what is going on,” he said.
DeWine said hospital admissions have gone up significantly since last year despite around 50% of the state’s population being vaccinated. In Region 8, which includes Belmont, Monroe, Harrison and Jefferson counties, the numbers have gone from four COVID-19 related hospitalizations in July to 172 hospitalizations as of Friday.
“It continues to go up dramatically. … This is a great concern,” he said.
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, health director of the Ohio Department of Health, said the hospital systems are facing a dramatic increase in the number of patients they are providing care for. He said the current surge is largely being driven by unvaccinated residents.
“It’s stretching our hospitals to capacity, and it’s not just because of the high numbers of COVID-19 patients, but it’s also because of the continued strain that it’s placing on our healthcare providers,” he said. “We are seeing that our hospitals are finding it harder and harder to maintain their workforce, so they are having to make difficult decisions to alleviate some of the pressure that they’re facing.
“So we’re seeing hospitals doing things like rescheduling elective procedures, diverting patients to other hospitals, and there are sometimes long waits for less urgent needs among patients who are in the emergency room,” he added.
Vanderhoff said the hospitals are meeting the need; however, it is putting a lot of strain on them and the emergency rooms. In order to alleviate some of this pressure, he recommends people who are experiencing less severe symptoms contact a primary care physician or consider being seen at a clinic as opposed to going to the emergency room. Also, people in need of a COVID-19 test are encouraged to visit coronavirus.ohio.gov to find a local pharmacy, library or health department for a test.
Vanderhoff said the best protection for residents, their loved ones and the community is to get vaccinated.
Dr. George Grecco, president of the Medical Group Enterprise at Trinity Health System, said at first the virus surge seemed to be a disease of overcrowding among the prison systems and nursing homes; however, now it seems to be among the unvaccinated. He said 80% of the hospital admissions now are unvaccinated residents.
Grecco commended the first-line providers for their continued work during this time.
“We hoped and thought this was over. … We’ve had to rally back up, and our first-line nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians, all our health care workers have really risen to that, and I just want to take a moment to thank them,” he said.
As cases continue to rise across Ohio, DeWine is urging school boards to institute a mandatory mask policy to help stop the spread of the virus. They should do this in an effort to keep kids in the classroom and keep them safe, he said.
He said last year the state had many schools stay open all year and educate students in person.
“The only way they were able to do that is because every school was masking and we were not seeing spread in the classroom,” DeWine said. “This year, it’s different. We’re seeing a very significant increase in the number of children who have COVID.”
DeWine said the only way to keep children in the classroom is for those ages 12 and older to get vaccinated, and for those who are not eligible to be vaccinated due to their age to wear a mask.
“We are seeing statewide that the schools that are masking are seeing a lot fewer cases and they are missing fewer days,” he said. “This is our ticket for keeping kids in school is for the schools to put a mandatory mask order.”
DeWine said officials are seeing a dramatic increase in positive cases among youths. He said the delta variant is a much more contagious strain of the coronavirus, and students were wearing masks during the last school year which helped slow the spread.
“We’re trying to keep our kids in school and we’re trying to keep our kids safe, but the other challenge when we see spread in school is then it goes back to families. In a county where only 50% of the population is vaccinated, that means that half those kids are going back to families who are not vaccinated,” DeWine stressed. “… It’s not just to protect the children or keep the kids in school, it’s to slow down the spread in the community and schools can be, when children are unvaccinated, can be a big spreader.”