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School districts in 42 Ohio counties report rising COVID cases as misinformation, pushback over masks, vaccines linger

Misinformation is spreading quickly, leaving school districts and health departments facing pushback in the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As students returned to class Thursday in Ohio’s largest school district – Columbus City Schools - they did so among rising COVID-19 cases and growing contention over masking and vaccines.

Misinformation is spreading just like the virus itself, leaving school districts and health departments facing pushback in the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic.

10 Investigates’ review of data from the Ohio Department of Health, which was published on Aug. 18, shows school districts in 42 Ohio counties have reported active COVID-19 cases among students and faculty.

At least 12 Columbus-area school districts within Franklin County were reporting COVID-19 cases, leaving hundreds of children and teachers in quarantine, per 10 Investigates’ review of local school districts COVID-19 dashboards.

As classes let out at West High School Thursday afternoon, sophomore Dede Daniels said her return to in-person learning was “okay.”

“I think it’s scary with all these cases,” her grandmother Dede Mullins chimed in.

For 14-year old freshman Zoe Hicks, she was excited to return to in-person learning.

“I thought it would be different, but it was better than I thought it was. It was exciting.”

In an interview with 10TV on Wednesday, CCS Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon said: “We want our students to be safe…” adding that the district is requiring masks, encouraging vaccinations, and working with the Columbus Public Health department to ensure contact tracing.

Columbus Public Health did recently dismiss layoff a dozen contact tracers but Dr. Mysheika Roberts told 10 Investigates the department still has enough on staff and has partnered with a private firm, Emocha, to supplement their efforts. 

An emailed message left for Emocha was not returned Thursday.

Pushback over mask mandates and vaccines have been a constant over the past two weeks as schools have resumed in-person learning.

Outside the Ohio Statehouse Tuesday, protesters held placards and shouted into the streets voicing their opposition of government imposed mandates and in support of HB248, a bill that would block schools, businesses and other entities from mandating COVID vaccinations.

There was more pushback at a Worthington school board meeting this week as the board adopted a mask requirement for K-12 students.

At a Gahanna-Jefferson school board meeting last week, more parents spoke out in opposition. At least two parents repeated false claims about the efficacy of the PCR COVID test – which is considered to be the gold standard among health officials.

That type of misinformation leads Dr. Roberts and other public health officials to say:

“The science says this virus is very contagious, the science says we can reduce the spread by wearing face coverings or masks, and sciences says we can reduce the spread of this illness and reduce death by getting vaccinated.”

Statewide data showed more than 5,000 infections were reported Thursday. The state’s positive rate was 9.4%.

“I definitely think we are going to see more cases, we are going to see more individuals being quarantined and we are going to see this impact the classroom and schools as well as businesses,” Roberts said. 

The head of the state’s largest school district says they’re prepared to return to virtual learning should it be necessary but requiring masks and encouraging vaccinations as concern and contention lingers.