HERKIMER, N.Y. (WUTR) — As COVID cases rise, students are heading back to school. Though the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released recommendations, it’s up to individual districts to decide on protocols like wearing masks.
“In a nutshell, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to keep school open. What we’re looking at is universal masking,” said Sandra Sherwood, district superintendent and CEO of Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES.
Sherwood says that while there will be mask protocols in place this year, they will be more relaxed, and that universal masking does not mean wearing face masks are worn all day, every day. Students will have opportunities to take their masks off.
“Everybody needs to wear a mask—whether they’re vaccinated or not—when we’re in common space in the classroom, moving around,” Sherwood says. “If we can create a classroom that has three feet between students and has good ventilation, we can set it up so that students can have their masks off when they’re seated. We can have mask breaks.”
This type of universal masking would allow districts to only quarantine students sitting immediately around an infected student. With vaccines readily available to school staff and students over 12, quarantine procedures would also depend on who is vaccinated and who is symptomatic.
Sherwood says those decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis. “If you’re vaccinated and you don’t have any symptoms, then you won’t be required to quarantine. You will be asked to wear your mask for 14 days after the exposure,e and you will be asked to get a COVID test somewhere between the third and fifth day—just to make sure you probably haven’t developed it. But again,” Sherwood added, “it’s not mandatory. You will be asked to do that.”
Sherwood says that school districts are reviewing NYSED’s Health and Safety Guide, and that she expects to release her district’s final protocols within the next two weeks.