Warren County pilot plan would reduce school quarantines

Ohio — School districts in Warren County are expected to test out new COVID-19 protocols in a pilot program with the Ohio Department of Health that would reduce student quarantines.

What You Need To Know

  • School superintendents say they are waiting on the final protocols from the state
  • The pilot program in Warren County would reduce student quarantines for COVID-19
  • The county health commissioner said the pilot could begin as soon as next week

​​​The change would allow unvaccinated, unmasked students to continue learning in-person after an exposure at school, if they mask up and get tested.

The Warren County school districts are awaiting the final protocols for the pilot program from the Ohio Department of Health, according to district officials and the county health department. 

Warren County Health District Commissioner Duane Stansbury said he expects the Ohio Department of Health to give approval this week, meaning schools could begin the new procedures as soon as the middle of next week. 

Previously, officials were looking to begin the pilot on Sept. 13, according to letters from two participating districts that were sent out to families.

A spokesperson for Little Miami Local Schools said in an email that the timeline has been pushed back. The district will review the Ohio Department of Health’s implementation procedures when they are available, and officials will inform families when the district is ready to begin the program. 

Kings Local Schools Superintendent Greg Sears said the district was also waiting for the final protocols from the Ohio Department of Health. 

Ohio students are not required to quarantine if they are either vaccinate or masked up when exposed. Under the pilot protocols, exposed students who are unmasked and unvaccinated would have a pathway to remaining in school, Stansbury said.

The exposed students will be sent home the day they are identified as a close contact, pending their results of a rapid test. 

A negative test would allow the student to go to school, with the requirement that they wear a mask for a week. In total, the students will be tested two or three times, Stansbury said. 

The plan was criticized earlier in the month by the Ohio Federation of Teachers, arguing it’s the wrong time to relax protocols with schools reporting high-case numbers. 

Some Ohio democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley, are instead calling for a statewide school-mask mandate. 

On Tuesday, officials with Ohio’s children’s hospitals met with school district superintendents and asked that they require masks. 

Gov. Mike DeWine hosted the children’s hospital officials for a press conference, and said he also believes schools should require masks while COVID-19 numbers are at their current high levels. 

Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said the department is pursuing the pilot concept to reduce quarantines because keeping kids in school is a high priority for state officials. 

On Thursday, Vanderhoff described the plan during a news conference as an “alternative to traditional quarantine that focuses on a combination of masking with distancing and frequent testing.” Vanderhoff encourages masks in schools, but he said there’s “low tolerance” in the state for mask mandates.

The health department and the governor’s office will consider allowing districts to adopt the change across Ohio if the pilot proves successful in Warren County, Vanderhoff said.

Ten school districts from the county originally proposed the plan in a letter to DeWine and Vanderhoff.

Stansbury said a smaller group of district representatives has been working with the state on the finer details of how the pilot will work. One of the challenges could be the logistics of conducting a potentially large number of COVID-19 tests, he said.

Stansbury said there have been discussions about possibly initially limiting the pilot to a smaller number of schools within the county, so there are sufficient resources for testing. 

COVID-19 cases among children are the highest level in Warren County since the pandemic began, he said. 

Stansbury said he understands families may be uneasy about exposed students attending school in person amid the high numbers, but he said it’s important to remember that the close contacts will be required to wear a mask, get tested and monitor for any symptoms.

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