On Thursday September 2nd Governor Kathy Hochul provided an update regarding the New York State school reopening plans, continuing her commitment to the health and well-being of students, teachers, and families as a top priority.

During her first week in office, Hochul confirmed she directed the New York State Department of Health to institute a universal mask requirement in all schools, public and private.

Fast forward a week or so, and Governor Hochul's announcement on Thursday said that her strategy took a major leap forward in that the Public Health and Health Planning Council passed an emergency regulation, and, the Health Commissioner issued a determination requiring all teachers, administrators, and other school employees to participate in weekly COVID-19 testing.  This is a requirement unless they show proof a vaccination with a CDC vaccine card or via the Excelsior Pass.

My top priority is to get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn, and everyone is safe. On day one of my administration, I announced a series of bold back-to-school initiatives, including a universal mask requirement for anyone entering our schools. We are now issuing guidance to make sure our school staff are vaccinated or tested regularly for themselves and their families, our students, and our communities. Our children deserve to be safe and protected in schools, and I am doing everything in my power to guarantee that.

During that same announcement, it was also made public that the NYS Department of Health had finalized and released their official guidance for classroom instruction.  This includes information not only on vaccinations, but also face masks, physical distancing, and testing to monitor potential transmission.  Clarification is provided in the new guidance about physical distancing requirements, keeping in mind that they should be implemented to the extend possible 'within their structures but should not exclude students from in-person learning to meet a minimum distance requirement.'  It also touches on masking on school busses, where students and drivers must wear masks on all buses, public and private, and regardless of vaccination status.

With regard to indoor sports and extracurricular activities where masking is not available, it is outlined that a minimum distance of 6 feet must be maintained, rather than the 3 foot recommendation for other indoor settings.

The full Department of Health guidance is outlined here.  The requirement for weekly testing, or proof of vaccine, will apply to all schools in New York State until it is no longer necessary, and is part of an emergency regulation.

It was also announced that schools must offer screening testing for any and all staff at least once a week, and that the schools must have the capacity to provide diagnostic testing for anyone who is symptomatic or has been exposed to the virus.  Funding will be provided to maintain testing and assistance will be provided by the local Department of Health.

Finally, in the announcement, it was recommended by the DOH that all school districts, including non-public schools, together with local health partners, support access to vaccination clinics for all staff and students.

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