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No COVID-19 quarantine requirements, test-to-stay for schools this fall, governor announces

New York State will roll back many of the remaining COVID-19 protocols for school districts as children prepare to head back to classrooms in about two weeks.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said children will no longer need to quarantine if exposed in a classroom to someone who has tested positive. The test-to-stay policy will also be dropped as state officials now prioritize keeping students in classrooms. Last month, the governor had announced that the state did not plan to impose a mask mandate when schools resumed, as was the case at the start of the 2021-22 school when the Delta variant was first driving up new cases. The mask policy was later dropped for the final four months of the school year.

Ms. Hochul, speaking at a media briefing Monday morning in New York City, said the state is updating its guidance to align with the latest policies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re expecting it to be a much, much easier year for parents and for schools,” Ms. Hochul said.

The Department of Health and Department of Education were both expected to send updated guidance to school districts Monday, the governor said.

“The big news is no more quarantining, no more test to stay,” she said. “The days of sending an entire classroom home because one person was symptomatic or tested positive, those days are over.”

She said information gathered over the last two years shows children are safe in classrooms and stopping traditional learning can be “devastating.”

“We know there’s no replacement for in-classroom learning,” she said.

Local school districts were all fully in-person last year after some districts used a hybrid model to allow for more distancing the previous school year when the pandemic was still in an early stage.

A student who tests positive for COVID-19 should stay home for five days and can return to the classroom with a mask when symptoms resolve, according to the guidance. It’s also encouraged for a student to wear a mask if exposed to the virus. If someone feels sick, they should take a test.

Schools can also choose to test for “close contact” activities, such as a choir or wrestling team. The governor said the state will not mandate random screenings and instead leave the decision up to districts as they see fit.

Ms. Hochul said the state continues to acquire tests that are distributed to schools for students. She said there will be one test kit per child at the start of the school year. The state has an inventory of 14.5 million test kits and have procured an additional six million.

The CDC issued updated school guidance on Aug. 11, which removed the recommendation to quarantine and the test-to-stay. The CDC notes that schools with students at risk for getting very sick with COVID-19 “must make reasonable modifications when necessary to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, are able to access in-person learning.” The CDC says schools can also consider recommending masking and/or testing for a classroom in which a student was recently exposed and is unable to consistently and correctly wear a mask. Schools should also consider adding prevention strategies regardless of COVID-19 community level if there is an outbreak.

The county data on COVID-19 has remained largely steady in recent months. There have been 26.2 cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average, as of Saturday’s data. The positivity rate in Suffolk County is 7.5% on a seven-day average. There 213 people hospitalized with the virus in the county as of Aug. 18 and 49% of those people were due to COVID-19 complications. There have been 23 fatalities in the county this month.

Monkeypox Update

Dr. Mary Bassett, the commissioner of the Department of Health, spoke about the latest on monkeypox across the state. The viral disease that has been spreading across the country since the spring continues to see new cases locally. More than 3,100 have been recorded in New York and there have been 43 in Suffolk County. The first case in Suffolk County was announced July 1. The vast majority of statewide cases have been in New York City.

A state health department spokesperson said Friday that the county-by-county data is not broken down further to identify the specific towns. The Suffolk County Department of Health has not responded to requests for a breakdown of cases by town.

A spokesperson for Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead said Monday the hospital currently has no confirmed cases of monkeypox. Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital would not confirm if it has treated any patients with monkeypox, citing state and federal patient privacy laws.

Dr. Bassett said a shortage of vaccines has been problematic during the response to the outbreak. To help that, the FDA recently issued an emergency use authorization for administering the vaccine through a different route that requires only 1/5 of the original dose. The new method would be an intradermal injection, in which the vaccine is administered into the skin as opposed to a traditional shot.

“There are more cells there that are active in the immune response,” Dr. Bassett said, adding that the antibody response is equivalent to the traditional method. She said the newer method can be more unpleasant compared to a typical shot.

Cases of monkeypox continue to be “overwhelmingly” in gay or bisexual men, the health commissioner said. Part of the concern related to monkeypox is its rapid spreading in areas outside where it had been endemic, largely in central and west Africa. She said another concern is a “clinical presentation in ways that are not classical.”

While monkeypox is rarely fatal, it can be “extremely unpleasant and painful,” Dr. Bassett said.

People should avoid any skin-to-skin contact with anyone showing symptoms of monkeypox.

Stony Brook Medicine partnered with the Suffolk County Department of Health to provide monkeypox vaccinations at the Edie Windsor Healthcare Center in Hampton Bays.

For more information on vaccines, click here.

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