Coronavirus: Most Clark, Champaign schools participate in new mask program

Brenda Vinson helps students in her financial literacy class a Shawnee High School. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
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Brenda Vinson helps students in her financial literacy class a Shawnee High School. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Cases and quarantines continue to decline with children ages 5-11 eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Coronavirus cases and quarantines in Clark and Champaign County schools continues to decline with new mask and quarantine guidelines as well as children ages 5-11 being eligible for the vaccine.

The Ohio Department of Health released the new Mask to Stay and Test to Play guidelines late last month that focuses on students and staff exposed to the virus wearing face masks and getting tested to allow them to continue with classroom learning and school-related extracurriculars.

The guidelines were created using information gathered from a pilot quarantine program in Warren County, as well as from local health departments and other programs outside of Ohio. The guidelines are for students and staff who were exposed to COVID in a classroom setting or school-related activity. Those exposed to COVID-19 outside of school should continue to follow standard quarantine measures.

Schools are not to required to adopt the state-issued guidelines and parents can opt out of them.

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How the program works

Under Mask to Stay, students and and staff can continue with in-person learning after being directly exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting if they do the following:

  • Wear a mask for at least 14 days after the initial exposure date
  • Self-monitor or have a parent monitor for symptoms of COVID-19
  • Isolate and get tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of the severity of symptoms
  • Students and staff may discontinue the quarantine procedures after seven days if don’t develop any symptoms and if they test negative for the virus between days five and seven from their exposure

The Test to Play option focuses more on testing because it can be harder for participants to wear face masks and social distance during extracurricular activities.

Test to Play permits students and staff to participate in extracurricular activities after being directly exposed to COVID in a school setting if they:

  • Wear a mask when able, such as while on a team bus, in the locker room or while on the sidelines or bench
  • Get tested for COVID-19 once they learn they were exposed to the virus
  • Test again between days five and seven following the initial exposure.
  • Students and staff may discontinue the quarantine procedures after seven days if they test negative between days five and seven

Several local districts are participating in the new program, including Clark-Shawnee Local, Global Impact STEM Academy, Greenon Local, Mechanicsburg Exempted Village, Northwestern Local, Southeastern Local, Springfield City, Tecumseh Local and Triad Local school.

“This change in quarantine protocol for Ohio’s public schools is a much-needed solution as we seek to keep our students in school as much as possible,” said Clark-Shawnee Superintendent Brian Kuhn. “As a district, we are very hopeful that these steps will help reduce the number of healthy students missing school or activities due to quarantine, however we want to remind everyone that participation in these programs is completely optional and at the discretion of the student’s family.”

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Parent and school reaction

Brandi Davis, who has two children - one at Clark-Shawnee and one at GISA, said she disagrees with masking, but likes the idea of the new mask program.

“If we have to follow specific guidelines as far as COVID-19 is concerned, I like the idea of the mask to stay program and am glad that our district is participating in it,” she said. “I never agreed with quarantining children due to exposure. If either of my children are exposed to COVID-19 at school, they will participate in the mask to stay program. I personally feel that being quarantined at home does more damage than wearing a mask for two weeks.”

Southeastern Superintendent David Shea echoed Kuhn, saying these new guidelines are a step in the right direction and a positive protocol for keeping students in school.

“The changes from ODH are a step forward in allowing students to remain in school and participate in extracurricular activities. This is a positive step in allowing our students to attend school more consistently by reducing the disruptions due to out of school quarantine,” he said.

“We are seeing very few cases of transmission regarding COVID-19 in our schools. Students that are being quarantined from contact tracing in school are not developing COVID-19 because of exposure from school,” Shea added.

Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill said the district will continue to require masking for all and follow current district guidelines.

Hill said all who are positive, all who might be positive, all with symptoms and all who were exposed and have symptoms will have to quarantine under the current district guidelines. He said those who are exposed in the school setting and have no symptoms will no longer be required to quarantine and can remain in school as long as they wear a mask and remain symptom free.

Maria Lewis, a parent of a kindergarten and second grader at Tecumseh, said she thinks the new mask guidelines are a great option.

“I think the Mask to Stay program is a great way to keep kids in school after possible exposure even if they were not masked,” she said. “I was hoping the Tecumseh district would adopt the program after reading about the positive results from the schools in Warren County who created the program initially.”

Lewis said she is allowing her children to participate in the program.

“My kids do not wear a mask to school, so it’s great that if they have had possible exposure they are not longer forced to quarantine,” she said. “Another thing I like about the program is that testing will not be done at school during school hours, and that it’s still the parents option if they want to test their kid or just have them remain masked for the full 14 days.”

As for the vaccine being approved for children ages 5 to 11, Lewis said she is glad the parents who want their children vaccinated against COVID-19 have the option.

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Davis echoed Lewis, saying she feels the vaccine is a personal choice that needs to be made by parents based on each child’s health. “Some children are at higher risk for illness than others. I feel that we as parents should have the right to choose whether we want to have our children vaccinated.”

Getting vaccines

The Clark County Combined Health District vaccinated its first group of children aged 5-11 last week.

“We believe COVID-19 is a vaccine-preventable illness,” said Communications Coordinator Nate Smith. “We know that the vaccines are safe and effective against preventing severe illness and death resulting from COVID-19. Decreased risk of spread and illness from coronavirus means that school districts can focus more on educating and less on quarantining and masking students.”

Natalie Driscoll brought in her three children — Olivia, 11, CeCe, 9 and Declan, 6 — to receive their first doses of the vaccine last week.

Olivia Driscoll, who is a student at Northwestern Elementary, said she was excited to get vaccinated.

“I just want everything to feel normal again,” she said.

The health department will continue performing vaccines at the COVID-19 Vaccination Center, 110 W. Leffel Lane.

The Champaign Health District also offers all vaccines, including Pfizer for children ages 5-11, as part of the regular clinic.

“(This is) the last piece of the puzzle for K-12 schools as all age groups should now be covered with vaccine eligibility. It’s our hope that numbers continue to drop and cases within schools are rare like other diseases in which a vaccine exists,” said Health Commissioner Gabe Jones.

If parents have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, call 937-484-1605 or email health@champaignhd.com.

Cases going down

Cases are appearing to plateau as the vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11 have begun. Regionally, hundreds of children have started the vaccine. As of Monday, ODH reported 168 (1.45%) in Clark County and 14 (0.43%) in Champaign County have started the vaccine.

The American Federation of Teachers President said they welcome the approval of the vaccine for children ages 5-11.

“This is huge news in our ongoing effort to keep our kids safe from COVID-19. For nearly two years, parents have been living in fear, worried that their child could get sick at school, day care, or in daily life, but now they finally have FDA-approved protection to add to the long list of vaccines we use to keep our children protected from transmissible diseases,” said President Randi Weingarten.

“Vaccines remain our best defense to protect people and prevent the spread of this virus, and educators, school staff and healthcare professionals are eager to work together with parents to help get America’s kids vaccinated in the places they trust, including public schools and community centers,” Weingarten added.


How to get a vaccine

You can find locations offering the Pfizer vaccine for young kids and register for an appointment at gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov.

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