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On Friday, the New York State Department of Health updated its interim guidance for in-person instruction at pre-K to grade 12 schools during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Changes related to physical distancing and use of barriers. That document can be read HERE.
The New York State School Board Association offered a further explanation HERE.
The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) provided this statement in response to the state changes:
The guidance aligns NYS schools with recommendations set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March 2021 to prioritize safe in-person learning within schools.
Using CDC thresholds for schools from its guidance document, the CDC considers 100 or more new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days to be “high transmission” – the highest category. Erie County’s rate was well above 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents throughout March, increasing to over 300 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks. Under CDC measures, Erie County is experiencing very high levels of COVID-19 transmission. The most recent rate from April 8 was 348 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past seven days.
As schools decide whether to expand in-person learning, ECDOH asks that administrators keep the following in mind when building their plans:
√ Erie County has experienced a strong and sustained increase in new daily cases, driven by high numbers of new cases within the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups. Many parents of school-age children and some school staff are in these age ranges.
√ Positivity rates among age groups under age 18 ranged from 9.8% to 12.2% for the week ending April 3, much higher than older age groups.
√ COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Erie County have more than doubled in the past month.
√ Even as many school staff have completed a COVID-19 vaccination series, very few students ages 16 and 17 years have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose and students ages 15 and under are completely unvaccinated because they are not yet eligible under current FDA emergency use authorizations.
√ SARS-Co-V2 samples from Erie County residents show evidence that more transmissible variants of concern are circulating in Erie County.
√ Families and school staff who traveled out of the area during spring break should strongly consider getting a diagnostic COVID-19 test between five and seven days after the last date of travel. These tests are free through Erie County and New York state.
ECDOH has a team within its office of epidemiology that solely focuses on COVID-19 cases among students, staff and youth sports teams. This team is managing a surge of COVID-19 cases, overwhelmingly involving students. For the week ending April 10, even though most schools are closed for the spring break holiday, the ECDOH epidemiology office school team expects to manage at least 400 COVID-19 cases. During the week ending April 3, this team received 504 COVID-19 case reports, an increase from 306 the previous week. These cases primarily involve students age 18 years and under.
Managing COVID-19 cases involves placing individuals with a positive COVID-19 test in isolation, and their close contacts in quarantine. Schools that change to 3-foot-spacing will be putting classmates firmly in the “close contact” category, and subject to quarantine if a case is identified in their classroom during an infectious period.
Through case investigations, ECDOH has documented that many students and school staff fail to mask or to mask properly; breach the 6-foot distance; spend extended time in small, poorly ventilated spaces (e.g., breakrooms, car pools); and come to school when ill.
“As we have said before, NYS sets school guidance, and schools establish policies that meet that guidance,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “Our advice to Erie County’s school leaders is to review this update carefully, and implement all possible mitigation strategies, regardless of whether your school chooses to expand in-person learning.”
Lewiston-Porter School District Board of Education President Jodee Riordan said the rules will be reviewed, and a timeline for in-person changes and instruction developed. Further discussion will be held at Monday’s work session.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta issued the following statement:
“As educators, we know that the best place for our students to learn is in person in the classroom. What we’ve wanted from the very beginning of the school reopening process is for that to happen in the safest possible environment.
“In adopting new physical distancing guidelines in line with CDC recommendations, the state is making it crystal clear that distancing is only one part of a layered mitigation strategy. These revised guidelines not only draw distinctions between when it’s appropriate to have 3 feet of distancing and when 6 feet of distancing is still necessary, they also mandate masks at all times and lay out specific ventilation recommendations while maintaining important provisions for cleaning, hygiene and contact tracing. What’s more, the guidelines are clear that community transmission – with a majority of New York counties currently at high levels of transmission, per CDC metrics – is a critical factor in how physical distancing changes are implemented. And before districts make changes, school communities – including parents and educators – must be given an opportunity to provide input on updates to reopening plans. That has always been and must continue to be essential to the reopening process.
“There also is more to be done to strengthen safety protocols. While the state recommends that districts ‘strongly consider’ implementing screening testing, we believe there is zero excuse for all districts not to implement routine testing as soon as possible. The federal government is making hundreds of millions of dollars available to New York schools explicitly for this purpose. It’s long past time to get this done.
“Ultimately, if changes to local reopening plans are made, it’s up to local departments of health to enforce state required guidelines. They must do so expeditiously and ensure no district is lax in sticking to a layered mitigation strategy.”
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.