Hudson Valley Health Officials Push to Reopen Schools Full-Time
Health officials say with these new safety measures in place schools should reopen full-time.
On Thursday, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced that the Ulster County Department of Health reports schools can fully reopen with safety measures in the police.
Ulster officials say they have made it a priority to vaccinate teachers, adding 95 percent of educators who wanted a vaccine have received at least one shot. By Saturday, March 13, all teachers and school staff members who requested the COVID-19 vaccine will have been vaccinated with at least one dose and will have completed both doses by the time they return from Spring Break, officials say.
“Safely reopening schools is critical for our parents, our students, our educators, and our economy,” Ryan stated. “My top priority is to ensure the health and safety of our residents and we are 100% committed to working with our school districts to ensure a safe reopening process. We will continue to provide any and all resources to our schools and we will closely monitor the public health situation in order to proactively respond to any potential public health scenario.”
The Ulster County Department of Health has introduced new guidance for schools to safely re-open for in-person learning. Outlined as a part of the reopening procedures are continued testing and contact tracing, the inclusion of sneeze guard barriers, and several other public health measures. Parents will continue to have the option to hold their children from in-person learning if they choose.
“The Ulster County Health Department believes it is possible for a safe return to full-time in-person learning. Ultimately, it is a decision that must be made by each school district with consultation with all stakeholders including teachers, parents, and others in the school community,” Ulster County Commissioner of Health Dr. Carol Smith said. “Factors of overall health, including mental health impacts, socialization, and additional resources for students with disabilities must be weighed against the risks of a possible increase in local in-school transmission. Ulster County stands ready to assist the districts in whatever way necessary to ensure that those that choose to resume full-time in-person schooling can do so in the safest way possible.”
The memo from the Department of Health stated that all schools should use multiple strategies to mitigate transmission.
Officials believe these five key mitigation strategies are outlined as essential to the safe delivery of in-person instruction:
- Universal and correct use of masks
- Physical distancing
- Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
- Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
- Testing and contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the health department
Ulster County has also worked with the school districts to provide PPE and COVID-19 rapid tests. Ulster County believes that if the following measures are taken, schools should be able to operate full-time in-person four or five days a week during the remainder of the school year.
These measures, which serve as the foundation for safe school reopening, are as follows:
- All relevant stakeholders should be involved in this decision process
- Intense preparation should take place prior to school reopening to ensure that all feasible, practical, and acceptable migration measures are in place.
- It is also critically important to develop strategies that can be quickly revised and adapted, depending on the level of viral transmission in the school and throughout the community, as this may change rapidly.
- Social distancing of 6 feet is still considered by the CDC and the NYSDOH to be the best measure to reduce virus spread, however, if 6 feet of separation is not attainable, then the installation of barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions may be considered, however the spacing must be at least 3 feet.
- Add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.
- Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times (e.g. guides for creating “one-way routes” in hallways).
- Close communal use shared spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment if possible; otherwise, stagger use and clean between use.
- Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart.
- Modify learning stations and activities as applicable so there are fewer students per group, placed at least 6 feet apart if possible.
- Create distance between children on school buses (e.g., seat children one child per row, skip rows) when possible.
- As the weather gets warmer, classes should only take mask breaks outdoors and with students more than 6 feet socially distanced.
- Continue to offer remote learning and allow parents to opt out of in-person learning