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State health officials urge schools to follow COVID-19 rules

The Ohio Department of Health is urging school districts to follow updated guidelines to keep children in class during the COVID-19 pandemic but isn’t requiring they be adopted.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, ODH director, said Monday the department is suggesting what he called “masks to stay” and “test to play” policies for students exposed to the virus.

The first guideline requests that students who are exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 stay in the classroom if: they wear a face mask for 14 days after the last date of exposure, monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and isolate if there are symptoms. The proposal would end after seven days if the student tests negative between days five and seven, he said.

“Test to play” for students exposed to COVID-19 suggests for extracurricular activities that they wear a mask when possible, get a test after direct contact and test a second time between days five and seven. A second negative test would end the protocol.

The guidelines are less restrictive than current ones, although they’re also not requirements.

“This is an important step on the path to assuring the developmental needs of our K-12 students are met even as we work hard to protect them, their families and their loved ones from the risks of COVID-19,” Vanderhoff said.

The ODH recommends face masks be worn at indoor public spaces, including schools, but the state doesn’t require them.

“I remain cautiously optimistic we’ll see our cases decline as we move forward, but this optimism must be tempered by the fact that our cases are still very high, including among our children,” Vanderhoff said.

He said every child between the ages of 12 and 17 currently hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

“It remains very clear that COVID-19 vaccinations provide the best protection against the virus,” Vanderhoff said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today will consider allowing the Pfizer vaccine to be given to those as young as 5.

“We stand ready to begin the process of vaccinating our children 5 to 11,” Vanderhoff said.

Meanwhile, the Trumbull County Combined Health District is having Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster vaccination clinics from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the Eastwood Mall in Niles.

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