A more ‘normal’ back to school? New COVID-19 guidelines lift mask mandates, ease quarantine rules

When school doors open and buses roll on Tuesday, students and teachers will be returning to classrooms in an environment that feels a lot more “normal” than at any time since the novel coronavirus struck New York, shuttering schools and business in the spring of 2020.

This year’s return to school comes without a state-mandated reopening plan detailing restrictions, unlike last fall. Pursuant to state and federal guidelines there will be fewer COVID-19 restrictions in place. There are no masks mandates indoors or on buses, quarantine requirements have eased and school districts will no longer be required to collect and report coronavirus testing data to the state.

The BA.4 and BA.5 omicron sub-variants are the dominant COVID-19 strains infecting people right now. While highly contagious, they are less likely to cause serious illness.

Suffolk County currently has a medium level of community transmission of the virus, according to the CDC. The CDC recommends people at high risk of getting very sick from the virus still wear a high-quality mask or respirator when indoors in public in communities with medium transmission levels. Others should feel comfortable in public places without masks.

In a joint letter to school districts last week, the state health and education departments, said districts should follow CDC’s latest operational guidelines for K-12 schools. These include:

  • Elimination of the test-to-stay policy recommendation.
  • Removal of the recommendation to pod/cohort.
  • Removal of the recommendation to quarantine, except in high-risk congregate settings.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state recommends students exposed to the virus wear masks for up to 10 days after exposure, as per CDC guidance.

Those who are or become symptomatic and/or test positive for COVID-19 are asked to follow the CDC’s isolation guidance.

Hochul has re-launched the “#VaxtoSchool campaign, aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates among school-aged New Yorkers.

“As we prepare for the beginning of the school year and the fall season, it is important that we do all we can to protect our youngest New Yorkers,” Hochul said in a press release“By breaking down barriers to vaccine access, these partnerships will allow New York State to continue to protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable community members and keep our schools open,” she said.

Information from the State Health Department on children and COVID-19 is available here.

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