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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff held a news conference on the spread of COVID-19 and the impact on schools.

The governor said he believes Ohioans are united in the hope children stay in class without interruption. He said the goal is being threatened, even with the school year just beginning for some.

“Today in Ohio, we are facing a perfect storm. Just as our kids are back to school, the new delta variant is sweeping across the state, taking direct aim at all those who are unvaccinated,” DeWine said. “Sadly, things have worsened since our last news conference.”

DeWine emphasized the Ohio Department of Health’s recommendations that children be vaccinated or wear a mask in the classroom. He acknowledged children under 12 cannot yet get the COVID-19 vaccine and of those 12 to 17, only 35 percent are vaccinated.

He called on school districts to require masks, at least for the next few weeks, with virus level high. DeWine said now is the time to take precautions, not take them away.

“To our Ohio parents, let me speak to you directly, if child’s school does not require masks, you still have the right to have your child wear a mask,” DeWine said. “We want our kids in school. We want them to play sports.”

Vanderhoff said we know masks in schools work. He said masks helped ensure a safe environment in classes through last spring.

“Vaccinations are our very best protection against COVID-19. In schools, we recommend that everyone who is eligible, students, staff, teachers, coaches, everyone, get vaccinated if you are eligible. For those who can’t get vaccinated, masks layered with other prevention strategies, including distancing, are part of our proven strategy for staying well, even in the face of COVID-19.”

On Tuesday, the state health department reported 3,235 new cases, 220 hospitalizations, 18 intensive case admissions and 34 deaths. There have been three days with more than 3,000 cases in the last week.

“We’re at the highest level of cases since last February,” DeWine said. “Prior to this week, we haven’t had a single day with over 3,000 newly reported cases since February.”

The 21-day average of new COVID cases in Ohio is 1,945, with an average of 90 hospitalizations and eight deaths. The latest CDC data shows nearly all of Ohio under a high transmission rate of coronavirus.

Vanderhoff reminded Ohioans that COVID-19 is not the common cold. It can cause lasting damage and make people of any age very sick, the state’s top doctor said.

“The delta variant is more contagious. It can make you sicker quick. The delta variant spreads like wildfire,” he said. He said it is the dominant strain in Ohio, making up nearly 90 percent of all the state’s detections. They know that through genomic sampling of PCR tests.

“Multiple scientific reports suggest that patients who become ill with delta have a much higher likelihood of needing hospitalization and requiring care in the ICU. And sadly, a higher risk of dying,” Vanderhoff said. It also has a higher viral load.