DeWine: Ohio Will Have 1,300 Schools Vaccinated By End Of Week

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOSU) — Calling it an “urgent necessity” to return students to the classroom, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says more than 1,300 schools will have their teachers and staff vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the week.

A nurse prepares a Moderna vaccination at a Columbus vaccine clinic.
A nurse prepares a Moderna vaccination at a Columbus vaccine clinic. [Dan Konik | Statehouse News Bureau]
At his coronavirus briefing Tuesday, DeWine outlined the state’s strategy for dealing with the education disruptions levied by the coronavirus pandemic, and for assisting the students impacted by the loss of normal learning this past year.

“We know that the pandemic has really been disruptive in some way for all the children, just as it’s been disruptive for all adults in Ohio,” DeWine said. “In the spring, all Ohio children were out of school, and during this academic year, some kids have been entirely remote, some have been entirely in the classroom, and some have been a combination of the two.”

Ohio this week expanded vaccine eligibility to all residents ages 65 and older, and will hold it there for the next few weeks. The state says more than 2.2 million people are included in “Group 1B” of the vaccine rollout, which also includes people with developmental disabilities.

As of Tuesday, Ohio has started vaccinations for 1,076,415 people, or 9.21% of the state’s population. Of those, just under 326,000 people have received both doses of the vaccine.

DeWine defended his administration’s choice to place teachers high on the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility list, saying the state is making progress on its goal of having all students back in school, at least part-time, by March 1.

Ohio began offering the COVID-19 vaccine to school teachers and staff in February, with 566 schools getting the shots in the first week. That’s set to double by the end of this week.

DeWine’s emphasis on in-person learning has already paid dividends: In December, 45% of Ohio students were in fully-remote schools, but that number has since dropped to 15%. The number of districts that remain fully remote has gone from 219 to 34.

Ohio state superintendent Paolo DeMaria joined the press conference to emphasize the impact that remote learning has had on students. The Department of Education recently released data on fall 2020 enrollment and student assessments, which confirmed that many kids – especially minority and disadvantaged students – were seeing the pandemic negatively affect attendance and performance.

DeMaria says the data showed that overall enrollment decreased by about 3%, with the greatest concentration in preschool and kindergarten classes, showing that some parents may have opted out of starting their children in school. In the upper grades, Ohio is seeing more high school students dropping out, possibly to get a job or take care of their family.

While DeMaria says the numbers didn’t come as a surprise, “it really emphasizes the importance of getting students back to school.”

In response, DeWine announced several actions intended at helping students get “back on track.” His new executive budget would expand the state’s investment in wraparound and student services for schools to $1.1 billion.

DeWine said those funds, which he pushed for in his last two-year budget, have been used to open on-site health clinics, counseling and after-school programs. At Columbus City Schools, the governor said those funds went to providing more social workers and implementing a suicide prevention program with Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The governor is also asking schools formulate a public plan by April 1 “aimed at the individual needs for each of their students.” He suggested possible solutions like adding more school days to the calendar, lengthen school days, and offering tutoring or summer programs.

“Our kids get one chance to grow up, so we cannot delay,” DeWine said.

Ohio’s coronavirus numbers popped up again on Tuesday after dipping over the weekend. On  Monday, the state recorded the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases – 1,926 – since October, but the next day cases increased again to 3,207.

Ohio hospitalizations dipped below 2,000 again on Tuesday, with 528 patients in the ICU and 340 on ventilators. DeWine said previously that if hospitalizations stood below 2,500 for seven days in a row, the state’s curfew – which has already been pushed to 11 p.m. – would be dropped entirely. That will likely be assessed on Thursday.