Students in Medina County who are exposed to COVID-19 can now stay in class after 96% of those quarantined never tested positive for the respiratory virus.
Medina County Health Commissioner Krista Wasowski said the biggest districts — Wadsworth, Medina, Brunswick and Highland Hills — have adopted the new policy, which took effect Oct. 1. She expects all the county’s public school districts to embrace the new option to keep kids in school.
“Educators are very happy to have students in the classroom,” Wasowski said.
Schools agree to keep exposed children masked for 14 days while quarantining in class, she said.
“The fact that our schools are enforcing the quarantine requirements to mask those students is something that people are comfortable with,” she said.
Schools across Ohio and the nation have struggled to balance the educational and health needs of students during the pandemic.
Medina County schools began the year following state and federal quarantine guidelines for students who spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone who later tests positive for COVID-19. Unless masked or vaccinated, the exposed student must then quarantine for five to 10 school days, depending on the results of a COVID-19 test taken three to five days after exposure.
Quarantines not only disrupt education as many school districts have dropped online classroom options used last year during remote learning, they create child care issues for working parents. And they consume countless hours as some school administrators and public health workers have spent their entire days contract tracing this year, chasing down seating charts, attendance records, reviewing vaccination records, determining who was masked and calling families.
In Summit County, rising quarantine and infection rates prompted most school districts to mandate masks after losing the equivalent of thousands of days of education. Springfield Local Schools, for example, quarantined 473 students — 66 of them more than once — before requiring universal masking in all indoor settings starting Sept. 27. That’s nearly a quarter of the student body.
As of this week, the Beacon Journal has counted nearly 3,000 times that Summit County school has had to quarantine, in consultation with the county health department, a student or staff member.
Summit County will continue to use the state and federal rules that require exclusion from the classroom, the health department confirmed Thursday.
“Summit County Public Health follows the prescribed guidelines from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and ODH (Ohio Department of Health),” Epidemiology and Data Surveillance Supervisor Elizabeth Foster said in an email.
Wasowski said the in-school quarantine option was a “county level” decision. It’s only for exposure in a normal school setting. Students would not be able to return to extracurricular activities and sports where mask wearing is not possible.
And there’s flexibility in the rule, she said.
“There’s also different types of exposure. That’s where you really have to look at it,” said Wasowski. “There are different circumstances where they might be exposed.”
Wasowski said health officials in Medina County reserve the right afforded them by Ohio Revised Code 3707.08 to issue a “full quarantine” of students when, for example, the infected person is severely ill and thought to be highly contagious.
Wasowski could not immediately say how many students have been quarantined in Medina County schools. She said the new rule is possible when schools agree to enforce the 14-day mask wearing for exposed students.
She and other health officials, from the local to the federal level, continue to stress that quarantines and masks are not as effective as vaccinations when it comes to preventing illness or transmission of the virus.
A 10-school district pilot program overseen by the Warren County Combined Health District is following guidelines similar to the updated rules in Medina County, though students in the pilot program who complete in-class quarantines must get tested periodically until they’re in the clear.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s office told the Beacon Journal Thursday that the Test & Stay pilot program has only accumulated a week of data since launching Sept. 22. If successful, the program could be expanded beyond these 10 school districts in southwest Ohio.
Reach Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.