Gov. Mike DeWine says he would mandate masks in schools if it weren’t for legislature

COLUMBUS – Gov. Mike DeWine would instate a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools if it weren’t for a state law passed earlier this year that allows state lawmakers to repeal health orders.

“If I could put on a statewide mandate, if the health department could do it, we’d do it,” he said during a Tuesday press conference. “The legislature has made it very clear that if we put a mandate on for kids in schools to wear a mask, they would take it off.”

DeWine’s comments were a shift from the Republican governor’s previous position, which had been that there isn’t an “appetite” for such mandates. DeWine has instead emphasized personal responsibility and sharing information with Ohioans.

Senate Bill 22, passed over DeWine’s objections and veto, allows lawmakers to modify or repeal health orders issued by a governor or the Ohio Department of Health. DeWine stopped short of criticizing his fellow Republicans in the Legislature, saying he hopes lawmakers and school leaders will listen to children’s hospital leaders and change their minds on wearing a mask.

school closures in some parts of the state.

More schools have required universal masking in recent weeks as quarantines drove hundreds of students out of buildings.

DeWine urged school boards to require masks and expects more will enact requirements going forward. Since Aug. 15 over 29,000 Ohio school children have had cases of COVID-19. He also urged parents to get vaccinated and inoculate children who are age 12 and older.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center recently conducted a study comparing COVID-19 cases in schools with partial mask requirements and those with universal mask requirements. The study found kids in the partial-mandate schools were nearly twice as likely to test positive for the novel coronavirus, said Dr. Patty Manning, the hospital’s chief of staff.

COVID in kids: Hospitalizations continue to climb as Ohio hits another all-time high

Last week, 159 children under age 18 were COVID-19 positive and were admitted to Ohio hospitals. The previous week, 108 children were admitted. Just 37 children were admitted the week before that.

The previous record was 87 new admissions during the week of Dec. 7, 2020.

Hospital officials have said the spread of the delta variant and a surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), typically seen in the winter months, are landing more children in hospital beds and straining staffing.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital is currently treating 30 children for COVID-19, with 10 in intensive care, said Dr. Rustin Morse, chief medical officer. The Columbus hospital was treating 20 children for COVID-19 two weeks ago.

“The infrastructure, the care for patients is being strained to a point where it’s never been before,” Morse said. “The staffing shortages are causing significant interruptions across the state, including at children’s hospitals.”

Jackie Borchardt is the bureau chief for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.