With schools resuming on what many consider an uneasy note at best, New Yorkers across the state are also processing an announcement from the new governor as well. On her very first day in the office of governor, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul revealed her extensive COVID-19 protection plan for schools in the midst of rapidly increasing Delta variant case numbers.
"As Governor, my priorities are now the priorities of the people of New York - and right now that means fighting the Delta variant," Hochul commented. "My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely. I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools, and we are launching a Back to School COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient. We are also working to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly, and we are going to accomplish all of this by working in partnership with all levels of government."
Included in Hocul’s plan is the directive made towards the New York State Department of Health to put into effect a universal mask requirement for all public and private schools throughout New York state. The Department of Health’s Public Health and Health Planning Council will issue the mandate through regulatory action.
“I think the mask mandate is a good thing because children under the age of twelve cannot be vaccinated,” remarked local Western New York mother Laura Lee. “Wearing masks at school will protect them.”
Hochul also plans to examine options for requiring school employees to get vaccines or mandate testing on a weekly basis in lieu of vaccination. Hochul plans to continue her work directly with the New York State Department of Health, as well as the legislature and education stakeholders, on establishing the vaccination mandate.
"Our highest priority is helping to ensure the health and safety of our students and educators as we work together to combat COVID-19,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker of Hochul’s plan. “Since early July, COVID-19 cases in New York have risen 10-fold and 95 percent of sequenced positive cases were confirmed to be Delta variant. Based on incidence and prevalence, our findings demonstrate the necessity of layered prevention strategies, including this mask requirement. While a simple measure of prevention, requiring masks now is crucial for protecting the health of our children and ensuring we can get our students back in their schools this fall."
Hochul also has plans to launch a new COVID-19 Testing in Schools Program that will partner with local health departments and BOCES in New York state outside of New York City, using $335 million in federal funding made available to New York state. Additionally, $225 million was also given to New York City to initiate their COVID-19 Testing in Schools Program, as part of the $585 million federal funding total awarded to New York to support these programs.
“People need to stop pretending COVID is not happening,” said local Western New York high school student Sam Lee. “Having students and faculty wear masks in schools is just like how a robin protects her eggs from predators, it is all about the safety of the eggs. We are just asking people to wear a mask to protect other people, it is not that difficult.”
With support in Western New York is strong, Hochul has also launched an additional COVID testing program with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as Rite Aid and BioReference, to ensure that testing is broadly available for public school students in New York state before the 2021-2022 school year starts.
"Since the onset of the pandemic, the health and safety of our students, teachers, and school personnel has been our top priority,” Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty A. Rosa noted of Hochul’s announcements. “With the increase in COVID variant cases around the state, Governor Hochul's action, taken after consultation with educators, demonstrates her commitment to the health and wellbeing of our students and the importance of keeping our schools open. The State Education Department supports a consistent application of masking requirements in schools, easing the return to school with a common line of defense against the spread of the COVID variant. I look forward to continuing our collaboration with Governor Hochul in support of our shared focus on expanded educational opportunity for all New Yorkers."
Additionally, New York state has made available more than 4.3 million clothed face masks for children, 10 million clothed face masks for adults, and around 55 million non-surgical face masks for school teachers and students across New York state.
"The Board and I applaud Governor Hochul for supporting and protecting students and teachers alike with a statewide mask mandate for schools,” remarked Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. of Hochul’s plans. “We must do everything in our power to limit the transmission of COVID in our schools so students continue to receive in-person instruction throughout the school year. Requiring students, teachers and staff to wear masks is the right thing to do for all New Yorkers."
This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program.