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Hundreds of central Ohio students in quarantine as doctors urge mask mandates in schools

More schools are reporting COVID cases and hundreds of local students are in quarantine.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the new school year underway, at Gahanna-Jefferson Schools there are already more than 600 students and staff in quarantine and 30 COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, the district is mandating all students and staff to mask up. 

Other districts have made last-minute changes to their mask policies.

Pickerington Schools, for example, updated its mask policy days before the first day Aug. 16 to require masks for students in Kindergarten through sixth grade. According to the latest numbers there: 29 COVID cases and 160 in quarantine. 

Even districts that require masks for all grades are seeing cases and quarantines, like Worthington City Schools. According to its latest numbers, 59 positive cases since Aug. 16 and 151 students in quarantine.

We heard from students from Lincoln High School in Gahanna who are now required to wear a mask in class.

“They're OK,” said Randi Mennigan, a senior. “Hopefully they'll be gone again soon.”

"I don't really like wearing them because I kind of got used to not wearing them for a while,” said Ryan Dickerson, another senior. “And it's just like back and forth and back and forth.”

For school districts like Jonathan Alder Local Schools in Plain City that do not require masks, there is no threshold for when that could change. A school official says they will be watching not only COVID cases within the district -- but absences.

For Dublin City Schools, masks are required for students in pre-school through 8th grade. A school official said there is no threshold for when mask rules could change.

In Hilliard, a school official said they haven't had to quarantine many students over the past week -- citing mask use and vaccinations.\

When it comes to contact tracing a lot of districts are depending on school nurses like in Dublin and Hilliard.

Others, like Jonathan Alder Local Schools, are depending on local county health departments.

Meanwhile, at a press briefing Monday, Nationwide Children's Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer said if districts haven't required masks yet, now is the time. This, as COVID-19 pediatric hospitalizations, doubled in the last week to 20.

"If you look at what has happened in the southern states we are seeing aggressive spread within schools of COVID and we are seeing some spread here within Ohio so it is an opportune time in my opinion to put a temporary, mandatory masking guideline in place for all ages including teachers within schools,” said Dr. Rustin Morse, Chief Medical Officer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. "Just to get us through the next few weeks,” he said. “And let's get through this Delta variant and then we can loosen that up there's really no downside on masking there's only upside from a safety perspective."

Dr. Morse said the numbers are dynamic and change every hour. However that 20 patient mark was the most recent number as of Monday morning. He also said 15 of the patients were symptomatic and five were at the hospital for another reason, but because each patient is tested for COVID-19, they discovered they tested positive for the virus.

Five of the children at the hospital with COVID-19 are in the ICU and two are on ventilators. At least one patient had no underlying health conditions.

Coronavirus: Recent coverage from 10TV