Wednesday, February 28

As kids remove masks, here’s how COVID-19 rules will change

Children and teens across the state were allowed to show their faces in school on Wednesday for the first time since 2020.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Department of Health announced that masks would become optional in K-12 schools last week citing declining COVID-19 numbers and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Despite worries, there was no COVID-19 surge in schools following the February break, according to analysis from the Times Union.

The CDC now only recommends masking in indoor settings, including in schools, in areas with a high community transmission rate.

Local educators and parents say that so far, some kids are choosing to keep the face coverings on as they adjust to the new rules. Schools have advised parents and students that bullying over mask preferences won’t be tolerated. 

But even with relaxed masking requirements, state health officials say most other COVID-19 mitigation strategies remain in place, and in some cases, masking is still required.

There will also be some key changes to contact tracing and quarantining, according to March 1 guidance from the state Department of Health. Notably, students and school staff who are exposed to someone with the virus will no longer have to isolate, regardless of vaccination status. 

Teachers who are unvaccinated, however, are still required to be tested for COVID-19 weekly.

Here is the status of some other COVID-19 protocols as mask wearing has largely ended:

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High-risk areas

P-12 schools are required to offer COVID-19 testing to unvaccinated students on a weekly basis in geographic areas identified by the CDC as having moderate, substantial, or high transmission rates. Parental consent is required for testing a student at school.

County health departments are advised by the CDC and “strongly encouraged” by the state to implement universal masking when the COVID-19 burden is high.

Currently, 10 New York counties have high COVID-19 rates, according to the CDC. It is up to county health officials to impose masking requirements in schools.

Most schools in high COVID-19 areas appeared to have made masks optional on Wednesday, based on notices posted to their websites. 

In the Capital Region, Albany and Rensselaer have medium infection levels, according to the CDC calculations.

Positive or exposed to COVID-19

After contracting COVID-19, individuals may return to school after five days of isolation and must mask in school and in indoor public spaces on days 6-10, according to the new state guidelines.

Individuals who are exposed or potentially exposed to COVID-19 should wear a mask for 10 days in school and in indoor public spaces.  They are not required to quarantine, regardless of vaccination status. 

Typically, anyone who was within 3 feet of someone for more than 15 minutes who later tests positive for COVID-19 is considered a close contact and must wear a mask for 10 days, under the new rules.

Since “individual” contact tracing is time-intensive, the state now allows schools to implement “group” or “classroom” contact tracing,

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Group contact tracing requires less information and less effort, but potentially identifies a large number of people as exposed or potentially exposed. This may be a concern in the middle- and high-school settings, where students change classrooms throughout the day.

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