COLUMBUS -- The rising spread of COVID-19 across Ohio threatens the ability of the state's children to continue in-person learning, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday.
"A lot is at stake in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lives are at stake. We worry about hospitals filling up. We worry about long-term health issues for those who recover.
"Something else is at stake ... and that's whether or not our kids will be able to stay in school," DeWine said during his bi-weekly press conference.
"Because of high community spread, in the last two weeks at least 16 districts have scaled back to hybrid or fully remote models because of spread. We have at least 50 districts that are fully on-line right now, with nearly 300,000 students unable to attend in-person classes."
In the past two days, two local school districts have shut down for a day while Richland Public Health conducts COVID-19 contact tracing.
St. Peter’s returned to school Tuesday after a one-day closure and Lexington has stated it will return to classes Wednesday.
Richland Source has launched a new tracker on its website that will allow readers to monitor positive COVID-19 tests in local schools.
Thus far, DeWine has allowed individual school boards to make decisions about in-person, hybrid or online-only education.
He ordered all of the state's K-12 schools closed in March when the pandemic reached Ohio and required online education for the remainder of the school year.
DeWine dodged a question from the media asking if he would again issue a statewide school closure order.
"I think there is a much better option. That better option is Ohioans wearing masks, keeping safe. We can control this. There is a lot at stake. We have already seen decisions by schools to go remote, to continue remote. If we can't get control of this, these schools are not going to flip back to hybrid or five days a week."
Asked again by another reporter, DeWine said he was not considering statewide action at this time, saying the state historically relies on local control of schools.
"It should concern all Ohioans that so many of our kids are going to school remotely. While many kids can do well under these circumstances, many cannot. Some of our poorest children who thrive in an in-person learning environment do not do nearly as well online," DeWine said.
According to the Ohio Dept. of Health, there were 216 new hospitalizations reported in the last 24 hours, a record number since the coronavirus reached Ohio.
The governor said Ohioans know what to do to fight the spread of the virus, including facial coverings, social distancing and avoiding social gatherings.
"It's just a mask," he said, holding up his own facial covering. "We owe it to these kids to fight back against this virus and reduce community spread. We owe it to their future. We owe it to the state's future. We can control this through what we do every single day.
"It’s the same thing I’m hearing when I speak with county health commissioners. It’s not big formal events or workplaces where they are seeing the most spread – it’s informal gatherings."
DeWine shared a map of the Midwest, showing how COVID-19 has increased in Ohio and other states in the last few weeks.
DeWine said that 69 of Ohio's 88 counties are now considered "high incidence" for spread of the virus under Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
"Today we are seeing spread virtually everywhere. These numbers will not change, unless we change," DeWine said. "We can turn this heat down. We owe it to our children. We owe it to their future."
According to the ODH website, as of Tuesday at 2 p.m., Richland County has recorded 1,286 positive COVID-19 tests with 179 total hospitalizations and 24 deaths.
With 980 presumed recoveries, that would indicate there are 282 active cases of coronavirus in the county.