COVID-19 safety measures for the 2021 school reopening at Roosevelt...

COVID-19 safety measures for the 2021 school reopening at Roosevelt Middle School in Roosevelt. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Back-to-school season is in full swing but educators, parents and students across Long Island are still waiting to find out how COVID-19 will be part of the curriculum.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to release “A Return to School” strategy, most likely in the coming days, because classes start for some schools in less than two weeks.

In July, Hochul told reporters she didn’t “anticipate the need for masks in classrooms,” but that she would “reserve the right to return to this policy if the numbers change, the circumstances change and the severity of the illnesses change.”

The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive on Long Island has remained above 7% since last April. And that is believed to be a vast undercount because so many people are taking home tests that are not included in those figures.

The state’s masks mandate, enforced at the start of the last school year, was challenged in court by parents and later lifted by Hochul in February.

Both Dominick Palma, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents and James Polansky, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said they are waiting for guidance from the state before advising parents and staff about how to handle positive COVID-19 cases, quarantine time frames and other protocols.

“Assuming nothing changes, we expect to open up and tell families and staff members if they would like to wear a mask, please wear a mask, but if you don’t want to wear one, you don’t have to,” said Palma, who is superintendent of the Merrick Union Free School District. “But we do need to hear that final word from the state.”

In a statement, the state Health Department told Newsday it is “reviewing newly issued COVID-19 guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” and will soon release its own back-to-school guidance.

“We will continue to make sure that New Yorkers have the tools to both treat and protect against COVID-19, including vaccines, boosters, tests and treatment,” the agency said.

That will include distribution of more at-home tests to families before the start of school, officials said.

Dr. Andrew Handel, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said parents can take steps before school starts to make sure their kids start school on a healthy note. That includes making sure they are up to date with routine childhood vaccinations as well as whatever COVID-19 vaccines and boosters they are currently eligible to receive.

“Discussing good hygiene with your children is important,” Handel said. “Talking about using hand sanitizer, washing your hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom, practicing coughing into your elbow rather than out into the open air is a good idea.”

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