Rural schools mull mask mandates and fall health guidelines

Classroom Progress Report

WAYNE COUNTY, N.Y. (WROC) — With the delta variant of COVID on the rise, doctors and health experts are pleading for those unvaccinated to get their shots as people without it make up 97% of hospitalizations. This has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release new mask guidelines

For weeks, school districts have been pleading with the state, to firm up COVID-19 safety plans right now. With the start of school just over a month away, they’re still waiting. Plans are reportedly still under development by the Department of Health using the latest federal guidelines as a basis.

“The urgency and frustration you are feeling as September approaches is palpable,” State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a letter to school superintendents. Her letter explains that the governor’s office relayed that guidance will rely on those CDC recommendations.

Those recommendations include all people, vaccinated or not, mask up in areas with high infection rates, including students K-12 when going back to school. Places throughout Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Columbia, Greene, Warren, Washington, Montgomery, Fulton, Ulster, Herkimer, Essex, and Dutchess have under 60% vaccination rates—in some examples, well under. Overall, infection rates range from 2% to 4% in the region.

With only four weeks left until school starts in Wayne County between Rochester and Syracuse, the soccer fields next to Wayne Central Elementary School were filled with families enjoying summer sports. Many say they think that in-person activity is best for their kids to return to this fall. “They need it for their mental health as well as their physical education,” one mother said. “Being moving and being in the classroom with their friends. Mental health is taking a toll on these kids.”  

“What we’ve done has worked, and I really wish they would keep it at the local level so that we can continue to monitor our classrooms, our children here in the county,” said Ulia Smich, a mother of four.

“We are encouraging individuals to wear their masks,” explains Diane Devlin, Wayne County Public Health Director. “Especially if it is indoors and if they are in a setting where they do not know the individuals around and what their vaccination status is.” 

Students of age have the lowest vaccinated rates in the county. The Wayne County Department of Health says that a lack of transportation and outlets supplying the vaccine is a factor for those low rates. They emphasize the easy free ways to get vaccinated, with walk-in clinics and pharmacies offering shots.

Leaders of the Wayne Teachers Association want parents to think of the health of teachers and other students by getting their kids who qualify for the vaccine.

“Vaccinations are safe, so the more kids we get vaccinated the quicker this can end,” Association President Jason Carter stated. “Most of the cases right now are all unvaccinated people. The more people we get vaccinated the fewer cases we have. Then this conversation of what does the school year look like really doesn’t have to happen about the opening.”  

The Association explains that all summer school students and staff have not been required to mask up and no outbreaks have been detected. Echoing parents, they say that opening plans should fall on districts. While the school district has yet to hear official policies set by the state level, nurses with the Department of Health state they have had deep discussions about what to expect with the school board to be ready. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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