“The days of sending an entire classroom home because one person was symptomatic or tests positive, those days are over,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday, announcing the state is dropping COVID-19 quarantine rules for schools. Newsday TV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Anthony Florio

The back-to-school season in New York will feel a lot more like back-to-normal, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday as she announced revamped pandemic protocols for classrooms, including "no more quarantining, no more test to stay."

Hochul said the state has aligned its guidelines with those announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month. School districts received a letter detailing the guidance Monday afternoon.

“We're getting this information out to parents and into schools and making sure that our children are where they need to be this fall,” she said. “We know there's no replacement for in-classroom learning and we're going to make sure that this year is a very different year.”

As part of the revamped protocols, a student or teacher — or someone who is a close contact of theirs — exposed to a person with COVID-19 can remain in school as long as they don't have symptoms, Hochul said. The CDC recommends people who are exposed wear a mask or respirator for 10 days.

“The big news is no more quarantining, no more test to stay,” Hochul said at a news conference. “The days of sending an entire classroom home, because one person was symptomatic or test positive, those days are over.”

Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay home for five days. They can return when their symptoms resolve, but must wear a mask. CDC guidelines recommend wearing a high quality mask until 10 days after testing positive.

“We now have two years of experience to know that children are safe in classrooms,” Hochul said. “And when they're not in a classroom and the learning stops, the traditional learning stops, it can be devastating for the well-being of those children.”

Hochul also said schools can decide on their own whether to test for “close contact” activities such as chorus and sports, but there is no requirement.

Free at-home COVID-19 testing kits will be made available to families in the near future, officials said.

"I think this brings schools back to a greater sense of, of normalcy and acknowledges that while COVID is not going away, we're going to have to learn to live with it in the most productive manner possible," said James Polansky, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and superintendent of the Huntington Union Free School District.

"The governor does state in her documentation that there's no replacement for in-person learning," Polansky said. "I think she's trying to say that if a student feels well and there's no symptoms and they're not seemingly impacted by an illness, they should be in school."

Hochul's announcement comes as positive COVID-19 tests on Long Island have remained above 7% since the spring, according to state figures. The actual number is likely much higher since it does not include results from people using rapid COVID-19 tests at home. Across New York State, only 38.1% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series. The figures are higher for children between the ages of 12 and 17 at 72.3%, and lowest for children ages 4 and under at 1.4%. 

Hochul has said if COVID-19 numbers or the severity of the illness changes in the coming weeks and months, she would consider reinstating the school masking requirement lifted in March.

While there is no requirement for students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the guidelines encourage schools to promote the vaccine as a way to prevent continued spread of the virus.

Dr. Andrew Handel, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said he is encouraged to see the guidelines allow more freedom for children to interact in school while keeping an eye on safety.

"The pandemic isn't over, " Handel said. "As we remove a lot of the restrictions that existed before, there's a good chance that we'll see an increase in the number of cases circulating and an increase in infections within schools … getting vaccinated can help keep your child safe and also make it less likely that they'll go on to infect someone else."

School officials around Long Island who spoke with Newsday greeted the new guidelines with cautious optimism.

Jack Perna, superintendent of the Montauk school district, said he welcomed the governor's revamped protocols.

“Hopefully, any new variants of this virus will not get any more aggressive and our return to full normalcy will continue,” he said.

Randy Stith, president of the Hempstead Board of Education, lauded the changes and said the district will continue to serve as a free COVID-19 testing site for the community, encourage hand washing and provide hand sanitizer throughout school buildings. Although masks are not mandatory, people who want to wear them are free to do so, he said.

“I'm glad it is relatively congruent with what the CDC is recommending. It definitely gives school districts a clear sense that we are truly getting back to normal, which is great for kids," said Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Port Washington district. "And I like the fact that we're really focused on making sure kids are in school instead of being outside of school.”

If students want or need to wear masks, that is their prerogative, he said.

"Everybody must respect that," Hynes said. "That really ties into a social and emotional well-being of our staff and students. And that is paramount."

Some Long Islanders were happy to see quarantine rules relaxed while others said they were concerned about future waves of COVID-19.

Edwin Torres, who recently graduated from St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip, welcomed the changes. The 17-year old-from Amityville said he was frustrated by how much classroom time he lost because of mandatory quarantine rules.

“I had a lot of classes I missed and it’s not easy to learn online,” he said.

But Kamyce Tyson-Cardona, 22,  said she thinks COVID-19 rules should be tightened up. “COVID is definitely still out here,” said Tyson-Cardona from Amityville. “I don’t know why people think it has gone away.”

Jodi Gunther, of Babylon, said people should focus on their own actions in an effort to stay safe as the pandemic continues.

 “We have to find a way to work around it, if that means relaxing rules and being more personally responsible on the other end, that’s what you have to do," she said.

With Cecilia Dowd

The back-to-school season in New York will feel a lot more like back-to-normal, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday as she announced revamped pandemic protocols for classrooms, including "no more quarantining, no more test to stay."

Hochul said the state has aligned its guidelines with those announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month. School districts received a letter detailing the guidance Monday afternoon.

“We're getting this information out to parents and into schools and making sure that our children are where they need to be this fall,” she said. “We know there's no replacement for in-classroom learning and we're going to make sure that this year is a very different year.”

As part of the revamped protocols, a student or teacher — or someone who is a close contact of theirs — exposed to a person with COVID-19 can remain in school as long as they don't have symptoms, Hochul said. The CDC recommends people who are exposed wear a mask or respirator for 10 days.

“The big news is no more quarantining, no more test to stay,” Hochul said at a news conference. “The days of sending an entire classroom home, because one person was symptomatic or test positive, those days are over.”

Students and staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to stay home for five days. They can return when their symptoms resolve, but must wear a mask. CDC guidelines recommend wearing a high quality mask until 10 days after testing positive.

“We now have two years of experience to know that children are safe in classrooms,” Hochul said. “And when they're not in a classroom and the learning stops, the traditional learning stops, it can be devastating for the well-being of those children.”

'Close contact' activities

Hochul also said schools can decide on their own whether to test for “close contact” activities such as chorus and sports, but there is no requirement.

Free at-home COVID-19 testing kits will be made available to families in the near future, officials said.

"I think this brings schools back to a greater sense of, of normalcy and acknowledges that while COVID is not going away, we're going to have to learn to live with it in the most productive manner possible," said James Polansky, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and superintendent of the Huntington Union Free School District.

"The governor does state in her documentation that there's no replacement for in-person learning," Polansky said. "I think she's trying to say that if a student feels well and there's no symptoms and they're not seemingly impacted by an illness, they should be in school."

Hochul's announcement comes as positive COVID-19 tests on Long Island have remained above 7% since the spring, according to state figures. The actual number is likely much higher since it does not include results from people using rapid COVID-19 tests at home. Across New York State, only 38.1% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series. The figures are higher for children between the ages of 12 and 17 at 72.3%, and lowest for children ages 4 and under at 1.4%. 

Hochul has said if COVID-19 numbers or the severity of the illness changes in the coming weeks and months, she would consider reinstating the school masking requirement lifted in March.

While there is no requirement for students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the guidelines encourage schools to promote the vaccine as a way to prevent continued spread of the virus.

An encouraging sign

Dr. Andrew Handel, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said he is encouraged to see the guidelines allow more freedom for children to interact in school while keeping an eye on safety.

"The pandemic isn't over, " Handel said. "As we remove a lot of the restrictions that existed before, there's a good chance that we'll see an increase in the number of cases circulating and an increase in infections within schools … getting vaccinated can help keep your child safe and also make it less likely that they'll go on to infect someone else."

School officials around Long Island who spoke with Newsday greeted the new guidelines with cautious optimism.

Jack Perna, superintendent of the Montauk school district, said he welcomed the governor's revamped protocols.

“Hopefully, any new variants of this virus will not get any more aggressive and our return to full normalcy will continue,” he said.

Randy Stith, president of the Hempstead Board of Education, lauded the changes and said the district will continue to serve as a free COVID-19 testing site for the community, encourage hand washing and provide hand sanitizer throughout school buildings. Although masks are not mandatory, people who want to wear them are free to do so, he said.

“I'm glad it is relatively congruent with what the CDC is recommending. It definitely gives school districts a clear sense that we are truly getting back to normal, which is great for kids," said Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Port Washington district. "And I like the fact that we're really focused on making sure kids are in school instead of being outside of school.”

If students want or need to wear masks, that is their prerogative, he said.

"Everybody must respect that," Hynes said. "That really ties into a social and emotional well-being of our staff and students. And that is paramount."

Some Long Islanders were happy to see quarantine rules relaxed while others said they were concerned about future waves of COVID-19.

Edwin Torres, who recently graduated from St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip, welcomed the changes. The 17-year old-from Amityville said he was frustrated by how much classroom time he lost because of mandatory quarantine rules.

“I had a lot of classes I missed and it’s not easy to learn online,” he said.

But Kamyce Tyson-Cardona, 22,  said she thinks COVID-19 rules should be tightened up. “COVID is definitely still out here,” said Tyson-Cardona from Amityville. “I don’t know why people think it has gone away.”

Jodi Gunther, of Babylon, said people should focus on their own actions in an effort to stay safe as the pandemic continues.

 “We have to find a way to work around it, if that means relaxing rules and being more personally responsible on the other end, that’s what you have to do," she said.

With Cecilia Dowd

Changes to COVID-19 school protocols

  • The state is no longer recommending that schools use screening to randomly test people with no COVID-19 symptoms. Schools can choose to give COVID-19 tests to students who participate in “close contact” activities but there is no requirement.
  • If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 they must stay home for at least five days. If their symptoms have resolved, they can return to school and should wear a mask until Day 10.
  • Students and staff members exposed to COVID-19 should wear a well-fitting mask or respirator for 10 days. They should get tested five days after close contact or sooner if they develop symptoms. These rules are the same even if the individual is vaccinated or has a prior history of COVID-19 infection.
  • If you have two sequential negative antigen tests taken 48 hours apart, you may remove your mask sooner than day 10, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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