Masking Not Required for Cincinnati Public Schools, Despite Administration’s Own Safety Plan

Hamilton County has been experiencing a high level of community spread for COVID-19 for nearly a month.

click to enlarge Scientists have repeatedly proven that masks and other methods are effective at blocking COVID-19 transmission. - Photo: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash
Photo: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash
Scientists have repeatedly proven that masks and other methods are effective at blocking COVID-19 transmission.

Cincinnati Public School students and their families are gearing up for a new school year starting Aug. 18, but packing a mask won’t be a requirement for CPS parents, despite the administration’s own COVID-19 safety plan amid high coronavirus case numbers.

Hamilton County experiencing high COVID levels

Hamilton County has had a high level of community spread for COVID-19 since July 22, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 tracker. As of press time, other Greater Cincinnati counties are also experiencing high levels of community spread, including Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

The current seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County is 215.91 cases per 100,000 residents, or 1,765 cases total.

The county was in the low level of community spread in March when the Cincinnati Board of Education passed a resolution to lift its mask requirement for students and staff. At the time, the district said it would ask the board to pass another resolution requiring masks if cases were to spike.

CPS not abiding by its own safety plan

According to the district’s 2022-2023 safety plan, district policy #5321 says the administration "shall inform the board and recommend requiring masks" when the community spread of COVID-19 is high in Hamilton County, as defined by the CDC.

Mary Wineburg, chair of the health of safety committee for the board, tells CityBeat, "As of right now, masks are encouraged and optional. If you would like more clarification regarding this, I ask that you reach out to Superintendent Wright and her communications team." 
The superintendent’s team did not immediately respond to CityBeat’s request for comment about why the mask requirement has not happened despite the district's safety policy.

Protecting kids from COVID-19

The CDC recommends masking for schools in areas where the spread of COVID-19 is high, but it is not required on a federal or state level.

Recommendations by the CDC for counties with high COVID levels – like Hamilton County and other Greater Cincinnati counties – include:
  • Wearing a mask indoors in public
  • Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines
  • Testing for COVID-19 if you have symptoms
  • Speaking to your doctor about additional precautions for people at high risk for severe illness
Vaccines are also recommended for children, but not required for public school students. According to the CDC, about 54,000 children under the age of 18 have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in Hamilton County. 

COVID-19 plans vary among colleges and universities

Some local universities are enforcing masks in certain campus areas as college students prepare to start the fall semester.

University of Cincinnati

Masking is not required on UC’s campus, but it is recommended, according to a campus-wide email and the university's website. The only areas where masking is required at the University of Cincinnati is in the College of Medicine, where everyone must wear a mask at all times except when alone in an office or while eating. The university strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccines.

Northern Kentucky University

NKU will not require students to wear masks on campus. COVID-19 vaccines are recommended, but not required. “The university recommends meetings include a virtual option available for those who are uncomfortable with an in-person setting,” a spokesperson for NKU tells CityBeat. “When gathering indoors, NKU recommends people wear masks, which are readily available in the Student Union and other select areas of campus.”

Xavier University

At Xavier, masks are not required on campus, but COVID-19 vaccines are mandatory unless a person has a religious or medical exemption.

“We have re-filled sanitizing and cleaning stations and are ready for students to return,” a spokesperson for Xavier tells CityBeat. “We have a dedicated Covid-19 Task Force that has been meeting since Covid began and will continue to touch base throughout the semester. As you may have noticed, more than 95% of our students and employees are already fully vaccinated.”

Miami University

Miami students are not required to mask up to be on campus, but they are encouraged to do so if the community spread for COVID-19 is high, as it currently is in Butler County. COVID-19 vaccines are required for students and staff who are not exempt.

“If we experienced a spike of illness on campus among employees or students, or if there were a new, more serious variant, it is possible we would need to temporarily adjust our approach,” the university writes on its website.

Mount St. Joseph University

Mount St. Joe is requiring all students and staff to wear masks on campus while Hamilton County remains in the high level of community spread. COVID-19 vaccines are not required but are encouraged.

“At medium and low-risk levels, masks may still be required in some settings,” the university writes on its website.

Testing options available locally

Most local and regional health agencies, including the Health Collaborative, provide lists of places where residents can be tested for COVID-19 or pick up a testing kit to use at home. 
The CDC advises that those testing positive for COVID-19 or who have COVID-19 symptoms should isolate themselves from others, especially from those who are immunocompromised. Avoiding travel for at least five to 10 full days is recommended, depending on symptoms, severity or setting. People ending isolation should continue to wear a mask for five more days, the CDC says.

A tool to help determine how long you need to isolate, quarantine, or take other steps to prevent spreading COVID-19 is available on the CDC's website. However, many doctors and epidemiologists, including experts at Yale University, caution that the CDC's current guidance for isolation may be too short to stop or slow COVID-19 transmission to others.

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