Public Health Advisory System

The Public Health Advisory System map. Image provided.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced guidelines for reopening K-12 schools this fall.

DeWine held a press conference Thursday afternoon to outline these guidelines and provide other updates linked to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The governor said that these guidelines were created with a few “basic principles” in mind: the obligation to educate children and to keep them safe, as well as “balancing local control and state interest.”

DeWine noted that he felt teachers and students in Ohio did “outstanding” with remote learning, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends students be physically present in school as much as possible.

“The dedication, the focus of our educators in the state of Ohio is amazing,” DeWine said.

The first guideline urges school staff and the families of students to monitor students for symptoms of the virus (fever, coughing, shortness of breath, muscle or body aches). In addition, DeWine said Ohio’s schools should work with their local health departments to implement testing strategies.

Second, schools should provide ample opportunities to students and staff to wash or sanitize their hands throughout the day. This could also mean setting up hand-sanitizer stations in school buildings.

The third guideline requires schools to thoroughly clean and sanitize high-touch, shared surfaces.

The fourth guideline requests schools practice physical distancing. DeWine said schools will decide how to distance students and staff 6-feet apart when possible. For example, this could mean operating under a staggered schedule, allowing students to eat lunches in their classrooms instead of their school’s cafeteria, and posting “visual cues” to direct foot traffic.

The fifth guideline focuses on school implementing face covering policies.

DeWine stated school staff will be required to wear face coverings during the school day this fall, but schools will have to decide how they will utilize personal protective equipment with their students. DeWine noted that the Ohio Department of Health recommends that students who are in grades 3 and higher who are able to wear face masks should wear them.

In addition, see-through face shields can be utilized if a face covering would impede the learning process, such as when staff work with students with disabilities or students who are learning a foreign language.

During the Thursday press conference, DeWine also unveiled a new COVID-19 warning system, the Public Health Advisory Alert System. The system measures the severity of the virus in Ohio’s counties by several case indicators: new cases per capita, sustained increase in new cases, proportion of cases that are not congregate cases, sustained increase in emergency room visits, sustained increase in outpatient visits, sustained increase in new COVID-19 hospital admissions and intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy.

These indicators determine at what “level” a county rests in the Public Health Advisory Alert System. “Level 1” counties have “active exposure and spread” of the virus and have triggered zero to one of the seven case indicators. Fifty-three of Ohio’s counties, including Vinton and Jackson Counties, are classified under Level 1.

“Level 2” counties have “increased exposure and spread” and have triggered two to three of the case indicators. The Ohio Department of Health recommends those traveling to or residing in these counties exercise a high degree of caution.” Twenty-eight of Ohio’s counties are classified under “Level 2.”

“Level 3” counties have “very high exposure and spread” and have triggered four to five of the case indicators. ODH recommends those residing in these counties to “limit activities as much as possible.” Seven counties in Ohio are classified as “Level 3” counties.

No counties in Ohio are classified as “Level 4” counties as of today, but these counties reportedly have “severe exposure and spread” of the virus and have triggered six to seven of the case indicators. ODH recommends residents of these counties only leave home for supplies and essential services. Franklin County is currently the only county in Ohio to be on the “watchlist” for potentially reaching “Level 4.”; @sydneydawes_95

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