CDC gives guidelines on school reopening, does it change anything in New York?

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 13: A view of students and teachers at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 13, 2021 in New York City. New York City Public Schools continue to adapt learning environments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation’s largest school district continues to face uncertainty with COVID-19 cases on the rise city, state and nationwide. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- With the exception of a few counties, most counties have a low enough COVID-19 infection rate for kids to return to in-person learning. This is based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and county infection rates reported on the New York State County Dashboard.

Many school districts began the school year using a hybrid education model with in-person and remote learning. Some have transitioned to remote learning periodically when cases of COVID-19 popped up among their student, teacher, or staff populations.

The state’s instructions for schools and businesses established a plan dependent on infection rate, hospitalization rate, and week over week increases in “cluster zones.” Cluster zones (yellow, orange, red) are determined by an area’s infection rate, week over week infections, and hospitalization rate.

The “cluster zone” plan would require schools in orange or red zones to test their student, faculty, and staff population for COVID-19. It is largely different from the CDC’s zone classification system which is more simplified.

CDC COVID-19 community threshold indicators

Designation
(Color)
Low
(Blue)
Moderate
(Yellow)
Substantial
(Orange)
High
(Red)
7-day average infection rate %<5%5-7.9%8-9.9%10% or greater
Source: CDC

County infection rate as of Feb. 16

Source: NYS COVID-19 infection rate by county

Nowhere in its guidance does the CDC say testing is mandatory at schools. CDC guidance regarding in-person and remote learning is only slightly different for schools testing their population for COVID-19, versus those that are not and only for schools with a “high” infection rate.

Schools with a community infection rate of “low” or “moderate” can provide in-person learning, albeit with the use of facemasks and social distancing of at least six feet. Schools with a community infection rate of “substantial” must have a hybrid education model or reduced in-person attendance plan.

With infection rates lower than 5%, 11 out of 12 local counties would fall under the CDC’s “low” designation. With an infection rate of 7.1%, Fulton County is the only local county with a “moderate” designation, based on the CDC’s zone definition and state’s reported infection rate.

Schools with a “high” community infection rate that partake in population testing can also use a hybrid model or reduced in-person attendance for students in elementary through high school. Whereas schools with a “high” infection rate that are not doing population testing must provide “virtual-only” learning or students in middle and high school.

What remains unclear is whether schools should open according to the states’ infection rate or according to more localized infection rates. This will be an important determining factor for schools looking to get students back on school grounds.

NEWS10 reached out to the CDC and the New York State Department of Health for clarification regarding how the CDC defined “community spread infection rate” but neither responded at the time this story was published.

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

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