SUNBURY — When Big Walnut students return to class next Wednesday, they’ll need to mask up when they ride the bus.
“Big Walnut Schools will follow the Ohio Department of Health guidance, which strongly recommends that those who are not vaccinated wear face masks while in school; however, masks will be required on buses by Federal Order,” said an Opening Guidance and Procedures document for the 2021-2022 school year on the district’s website. “With the exception of individuals riding buses, parents and guardians will have the option to have their children wear face masks while in school or participating in school activities.”
The federal order for students and bus drivers expires Sept. 13, and may be renewed. While on the bus, there will be assigned seating with students from the same household seated together. As many windows as possible will be opened to increase ventilation. Masks and hand sanitizer will be available on the buses, and each bus will be cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis.
That information was accurate as of Aug. 4, the district said, and it’s subject to change.
The Delaware Public Health District noted on Wednesday that there were two failing factors on its weekly 5-critical factor report card due to recent surge in COVID-19 cases that equals the numbers this past February.
“As a result, the Health District released an advisory for all persons — vaccinated and unvaccinated — to wear a mask inside public places and crowded settings,” said a letter to the community dated Thursday from Health Commissioner Shelia L. Hiddleson.
“We have been asked by many community members, parents and caregivers to require or mandate masking in schools,” Hiddleson wrote. “The passing of Ohio Senate Bill 22, effective June 23, 2021, limited the ability of a local health district to issue orders related to classes of persons without a documented case of disease and therefore, we are without authority to issue an order mandating schools to require everyone wears masks.”
The letter went on to say, “If there is an outbreak, within or outside a school setting, additional guidance and/or requirements will be given at that time.”
“Masks may be required if an outbreak is identified in a classroom or building,” the district said. “This will be determined based on the cases in the specific classroom or building and using data regarding community spread.”
Big Walnut Local Schools will continue to offer daily, in-person instruction with a staggered start on Aug. 18-20, and all students in attendance starting Aug. 23. Social distancing of at least three feet will take place when possible, and hand washing will continue to be emphasized.
“We continue to encourage our community to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” the district said. “The Ohio Department of Health provides information on the benefits of the vaccine in a school environment.”
The DPHD also recommends vaccination.
“The good news is, although the vaccine is not 100% effective, it is very effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Hiddleson wrote. “In fact, within the Health District from March 1-July 20, 2021, 99% of our cases were unvaccinated, 93% of hospitalizations were unvaccinated, and 100% of the deaths were unvaccinated.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.