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NY State Adds Clarity to COVID School Guidance

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The new COVID guidance makes masks mandatory at all times in public schools, but only recommends that schools "strongly consider" COVID testing. (ManuPadilla/Adobe Stock)
The new COVID guidance makes masks mandatory at all times in public schools, but only recommends that schools "strongly consider" COVID testing. (ManuPadilla/Adobe Stock)
 By Andrea Sears - Producer, Contact
April 14, 2021

NEW YORK - As public-school students return to classrooms in New York, the state health department has new guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its federal pandemic guidelines for schools, and now New York's Department of Health has clarified how those guidelines should be applied in the state. While the CDC recommends reducing social-distancing requirements from six feet to three in classrooms, the new state guidance specifies circumstances when six feet of distance should be maintained.

According to Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, the new state guidance goes a step further.

"A mask policy has finally been put into place, a mandatory mask policy, in New York state," he said, "because before this, it was merely a guideline."

He said the state guidelines also make specific ventilation recommendations and maintain important provisions for cleaning, hygiene and contact tracing. More than 50,000 students will be back in New York City classrooms later this month.

While NYSUT is supportive of the new guidance, Pallotta said he believes the state should do more to help control outbreaks and identify students and staff who may be infected but asymptomatic. He believes the best way to do that is with a stringent testing requirement.

"It is not being done in the state, as of now, and we have done a survey of districts," he said. "There are 700 districts in New York state; only 57 were doing any type of COVID testing program."

He noted that the federal government has given the state $250 million for testing in New York City alone, and $335 million for testing in other parts of the state.

Pallotta emphasized that teachers and school staff agree with parents that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom.

"We are all on the same side," he said. "We just want to make sure that it's the safest possible place for students and for educators to be."

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