State: Schools can lift outdoor mask rule

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Jun. 8—PLATTSBURGH — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that school districts may lift the outdoor masking requirements for students as the state — and thus schools and local health departments — await clarification from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on whether masking indoors can become optional as well.

WEEKEND CONFUSION

Confusion ensued over the weekend following the release of a letter sent by state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to the CDC in which he wrote that the state planned to change its guidelines Monday, June 7, to say that indoor masking would "be strongly encouraged but not required for students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated."

Zucker had noted that, while CDC guidance recommends requiring mask wearing for K-12 schools, with no distinction between indoor versus outdoor activities, for youth camps, the federal agency strongly encourages indoor mask use for those not fully vaccinated, but says outdoor use is not required regardless of vaccination status.

Citing how many camps are held on school grounds and serve school-age children, Zucker wrote that the state planned to align school and camp mask guidance, which would have essentially removed both indoor and outdoor masking requirements while still allowing schools and camps to implement stricter standards.

In an emailed letter to all district board of education presidents, the state Education Department on Sunday clarified that masks would remain in effect for the time being and said Zucker's letter was viewed as a request for guidance on the differences between mask wearing in schools versus summer camps, the Times Union reported.

"So for now, despite much hullabaloo over the weekend, there appears to be no change regarding mask guidance for indoor activities for New York schools," Plattsburgh City School District Superintendent of Schools Jay Lebrun said.

"If the guidance changes and makes mask wearing a local (ie. district-level) decision, we'll consult with our medical staff and others, and make an appropriate decision at that time."

Clinton County Health Department Senior Public Health Educator Molly Flynn said schools and local health departments will receive updated guidance from the state "as soon as they are able to do so."

"In the meantime, we ask students, parents, faculty, and staff to be patient with the districts."

LOGIC, RATIONAL

In a press release from Cuomo's office, the lifting of the requirement for outdoor mask wearing was framed as a change that aligns the state's guidance on schools with CDC guidance on summer camps.

Cuomo said the numbers show risk of transmission by children is extremely low, and that the CDC has no objection to local school districts making the decision to do away with outdoor masking.

"It's very important that people understand the logic between these decisions and that they're rational and based on the science and the data," he continued.

"We have a disconnect right now between the school guidance and the camp guidance, and it's important to rectify it because if people don't think the rules are logical, then they're not going to want to follow the rules."

GET STUDENTS VACCINATED

Flynn said, as of Monday, "CCHD continues to recommend mask wearing in indoor, crowded settings among unvaccinated individuals."

She noted that, for the month of May, 51 percent of COVID-19 cases in Clinton County were identified in people younger than 25.

On how CCHD anticipates the end of the school year could impact contact tracing and virus containment efforts, Flynn pointed to low case counts over the past few weeks, which will hopefully remain that way.

"For that to happen, we need to be sure not to let our guard down," she continued. "A proactive step parents can take is to get their students who are 12 years of age or older vaccinated.

"Having a high percentage of vaccinated students, faculty and staff in the schools will help to reduce the number of cases and subsequent students impacted by quarantines."

Flynn added that, over the past two weeks, CCHD staff have administered about 275 first doses of vaccine to students in six school districts.

"Those students will receive their second doses before the end of the school year."

Email Cara Chapman:

cchapman@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman