Ohio's K-12 schools will continue teaching students remotely for the rest of the academic year.
Gov. Mike DeWine announced the decision Monday, two weeks before his already-extended school closing order was set to expire.
At his daily coronavirus press conference, DeWine said parents, teachers and school administrators expressed concerns about the coronavirus's spread, with just a few weeks remaining in the school year. Most, if not all, Ohio colleges and universities have already switched to online-only classes for the remainder of the term.
"The virus continues. We have flattened the curve but it remains dangerous," DeWine said. "We also know young people are carriers."
After shuttering schools on March 12, the Ohio Department of Health extended the closure again until May 1, the day Ohio's stay-at-home order expires.
No decisions have been made about fall, which DeWine said will depend on the spread of COVID-19. There are talks of possibly transitioning to a blended school system, meaning districts can choose to have in-person as well as remote learning. DeWine said it would be up to the individual districts.
"One of the things that I think is very strong about our Ohio school system is that it's local," DeWine said. "As these decisions are made, we are going to allow a great deal of flexibility — as we should — for the local schools because what they find in their decisions and how their district looks is very different."
DeWine said as he considers school-related decisions in the future, there are several groups about which he has particular concerns: children with developmental needs, health challenges, limited or no access to the internet and those without a supportive home.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association previously announced that spring sports seasons would be canceled if schools are closed for the rest of the year.
"We Will Not Stay Flat"
As of Monday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 12,909 total cases of COVID-19—including confirmed and probable cases under a new definition by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's a sharp uptick from the 11,602 cases reported Sunday.
Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, attributed the increase to mass testing inside prisons. More than 2,400 inmates have tested positive so far, although a large portion are asymptomatic.
DeWine also said recent data shows COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting African Americans, both in Ohio and across the nation.
According to the Ohio Department of Health website, here's the race distribution of confirmed cases:
- 49% are white
- 21% are African American
- 1% are Asian
- 7% are biracial
- 10% are other
- 11% are unknown
The state is putting together a group called the Minority Health Strike Force to identify why the virus is affecting certain races more than others, and find solutions like easier access to health care.
At the press conference, DeWine addressed issues of transparency with state data. He said health officials have to be careful to protect individual privacy when releasing data. Starting next week, data will be available for Ohioans to download so they can do their own analyses.
There will also be more dashboards available next week on the ODH website that will include information from hospitals, local health departments and more.
Last week, ODH took down the list of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state with confirmed cases after officials found inconsistency with the data. The list is being corrected and will be updated every Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the ODH website.
COVID-19 cases have been steadily increasing over the last few days. Models are showing that Ohio is currently in its peak, which Acton said will eventually start to decline.
But when the state begins to slowly start to reopen on May 1, DeWine and Acton both warned the virus isn't going away anytime soon, and the curve of cases will fluctuate.
"We will not stay flat," Acton said. "We will go down. And when we go down, we will see bumps."
DeWine didn't release any details relating to the state's reopening plan.
Do you have questions about the coronavirus in Ohio? Ask below as part of our Curious Cbus series.