ALBANY — Two weeks before children start returning to public schools, the state is relaxing COVID-prevention guidelines for their classrooms.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday that quarantine is no longer required or recommended for students who have potentially been in contact with an infected person but they themselves don’t exhibit symptoms; instead, they can continue attending school, but should wear a mask for 10 days.
Those who do show symptoms, should stay home for five days, until symptoms disappear and they test negative.
The changes match guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the governor said.
“No more quarantining, no more test-to-stay, and the days of sending an entire classroom home because one person was symptomatic or test positive, those days are over,” she said during a news conference Monday.
Instead of tests, masks and quarantines, the state’s strategy to slow the spread of COVID now is vaccines. Only 38.1% of New Yorkers ages 5-11, along with only 72.3% of those ages 12-17, are fully vaccinated. Those are the two lowest vaccination rates of any age demographic, aside from those younger than 5 years old, who are only 1.4% vaccinated.
State data show that many of the new lab-confirmed infections are hitting New Yorkers who have been fully vaccinated.
Numerically, New York’s COVID statistics are actually worse now than a year ago.
For the seven days ending Aug. 20, 2021, there were 31,318 lab-confirmed positive tests statewide.
In the same seven days this year, there were 31,505 such positives, plus an unknown number of positives with the home self-test kits that have proliferated over the past year, but which aren’t counted in the state tally.
New York’s hospitals had 1,937 COVID-positive inpatients on Aug. 18, 2021 and 2,427 on Aug. 18, 2022.
Hochul lifted the mask requirement on children in schools in March 2022. On Monday, she announced the following guidance for the new school year, framing it as CDC recommendations rather than orders or suggestions from her own administration:
- Anyone with known or suspected COVID exposure should wear a mask or respirator for 10 days after the exposure and get tested at least five days after close contact.
- Any student or school employee with symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea should get tested as soon as possible. Those who test positive should stay home for at least five days.
- Isolation can end after day five if there were no symptoms, or if there were symptoms but they are improving and there is no fever.
Hochul said two years of data show children are safe in classrooms amid the pandemic. The isolation policies implemented last year by her and two years ago by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, were made with less information, she said, and are still resulting in negative consequences.
“When they’re not in a classroom and the learning stops, the traditional learning stops, it can be devastating for the wellbeing of those children,” Hochul said. “We’re seeing it in the mental health challenges we’re facing now. Suicide rates, depression, real mental health issues that were not there before for many of these children.”
Data reported by the state Department of Health shows the Capital Region with 18.5 positive COVID tests per 100,000 residents, as of the seven days ended Sunday. This compares with 22.8 on the same date a year ago.
Individual rates in the eight-county region ranged from 14.7 in Greene County to 23.8 in Warren County.
As of Friday, 108 COVID-positive inpatients were being cared for in Capital Region hospitals, compared with 109 on the same date a year ago.
Also Monday, the state Department of Health announced 3,560 more vials of monkeypox vaccine would be shipped to New York state; that the vials would be used for four to five doses instead of one by changing the injection method; and that the only Capital Region recipient would be Columbia County, which would get 100 vials.
Intradermal injections are more painful but just as effective as subcutaneous shots, state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in response to a reporter’s question.
There have been 3,180 confirmed cases of the rare disease in New York state and just seven in the Capital Region. The outbreak is concentrated among men who have sex with men.
Bassett said she does not, at this point, see a risk of monkeypox transmission within schools.