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Ohio health officials 'strongly' recommend unvaccinated students, staff wear masks when school resumes

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, along with other medical experts, made the announcement during a press conference on Monday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health recommended students and school staff who are unvaccinated wear masks when classes resume in the fall. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, along with other medical experts, made the announcement during a press conference on Monday. 

You can watch that briefing in the player below: 

Vanderhoff said the new COVID-19 guidance focuses on three key factors: 

  • Strongly recommend vaccinations for all eligible students and staff 
  • Strongly recommend those who are unvaccinated consistently wear masks 
  • Strongly encourage hand washing, social distancing and other safety measures to prevent virus spread 

“This is a bad virus, even for our children,” Vanderhoff said, adding wearing masks will only work to protect those who aren't fully vaccinated when in school buildings. 

Vanderhoff said the recommendation applies to indoor settings, adding masks are not necessary outside in settings like recess.

Vanderhoff said districts who do not follow the department's recommendation should remember that parents are allowed to choose whether they want their child to wear a mask. 

Health officials are also recommending students and staff maintain three to six feet of social distancing when necessary. If social distancing isn't possible, Vanderhoff said schools should provide multiple other prevention strategies, including mask wearing and hand washing. Additionally, Vanderhoff said students and staff should stay home when sick. 

Vanderhoff said schools should provide good ventilation at all times, suggesting school officials open windows when safe to do so. 

"Our mask recommendation is based on science, but it is not a mandate," Vanderhoff said. 

More than 5.3 million Ohioans are fully vaccinated as of Monday. Vanderhoff recommended those with concerns talk with their healthcare provider. 

"The risks of COVID-19 are far worse than any risks from the vaccine," said Vanderhoff. 

Doctor Patty Manning-Courtney with Cincinnati Children's Hospital said schools rarely experienced outbreaks when mask mandates were implemented the previous year. By wearing masks, children will also be less likely to spread the virus to family members waiting for them at home, Manning-Courtney said.  

The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the state. An additional 822 people tested positive for the virus on Thursday -- an uptick from cases reported in recent weeks. 

Health officials have said the delta variant is likely to blame for the increase in people testing positive. 

RELATED: Masks starting to return to Ohio classrooms with the rise in COVID cases

Last week, Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill that would ban public schools and colleges in the state from requiring individuals to receive vaccines not granted full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Right now, all three COVID-19 vaccines have only received emergency use authorization.

A day before signing the bill, DeWine said the FDA needs to move the vaccines to full approval as soon as possible.

The announcement comes after an official with the FDA said he expects vaccines to be available for children under the age of 12 by the winter.

As of right now, only the Pfizer vaccine is available for children 12 and older.

Columbus City Schools announced last week it would require all students and staff to wear masks when they return in the fall, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. Additionally, Dublin City Schools says it will require masks to be worn on school buses.