COLUMBUS, Ohio — As Ohio students prepare to return to the classroom amid rising coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers, Governor Mike DeWine stressed the importance of students to, if possible, be vaccinated and if not, to wear a mask.
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But despite speculation to the contrary, DeWine said that he won't be issuing a mask mandate for schools, opting instead to leave the decision in the hands of school districts and parents.
"Let me be quite candid. I do not believe that I have the authority today to mandate that," DeWine said of a potential mask mandate for classrooms.
When asked why not, DeWine replied with a smile, "I could make a smart comment, but I won't," a likely reference to Ohio lawmakers passing and overriding a veto on Senate Bill 22, which gives the state's General Assembly the ability to be able to reject any of the governor’s or health department’s health orders.
"There's not the appetite in this state today for that type of mandate," DeWine continued. "We did last year in the schools and it worked well. There's not the appetite in this state for that. I do not effectively have the ability to do that. But what I do have the ability to do and what the health department has the ability to do is to tell what the facts are.
"Let me just give you one more fact: the quarantine issue, quarantining goes back decades and maybe centuries, I suppose. It well well pre-dates COVID. We saw what happened last year. What we found out was that when kids were masked in classrooms, if Sally was even three feet away from Billy and Billy had COVID, we didn't see much spread. And so we were able for those who were wearing masks in classrooms when kids were masked, we were able to say to them, 'You do not have to quarantine your child. Your son, your daughter does not have to quarantine.' And that was pulling back from what the CDC said. And that was pulling back from what was traditional. But we said that if everyone was wearing a mask, you could do that... if you want your child to play sports, not being vaccinated and not wearing a mask in school is a recipe for that not to happen or for that to certainly potentially be interrupted."
Earlier on Monday, the Ohio Department of Health issued new guidance for schools, strongly recommending, but not mandating, masks for unvaccinated students and staff members.