Rural school districts weigh the possibilities of mask mandates and health guidelines in fall

Education

WAYNE COUNTY, N.Y. (WROC) — With the Delta variant of the Coronavirus on the rise, doctors and health experts are pleading for those unvaccinated to get their shots as people without it make up 97% of hospitalizations. This has prompted the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to release new masking guidelines

For weeks, school districts have been pleading with the state, to firm up COVID-19 safety plans right now. With the start of school just over a month away – they’re still waiting.

News 8 has learned, the plan is still being developed by the State Department of Health but it will use the latest federal guidelines as its basis.

“The urgency and frustration you are feeling as September approaches is palpable,” State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a letter to school superintendents. According to this letter from the State Department of education, the governor’s office has told them, any guidance will rely on those CDC recommendations.

Those recommendations include all people, vaccinated or not, mask up in areas with high infection rates. Including students K-12 when going back to school. Places like Yates, Livingston, Orleans, and Wayne County have more than 40% of their eligible population still not fully vaccinated. But infection rates are not up too high yet.  

With only four weeks left until school starts, the soccer fields next to Wayne Central Elementary School were filled with families enjoying summer sports believing in-person activity is best for their kids to return to this fall.  

“They need it for their mental health as well as their physical education,” one mother told us. “Being moving and being in the classroom with their friends. Mental health is taking a toll on these kids.”  

“What we’ve done has worked and I really wish they would keep it at the local level,” Ulia Smich, a mother of four in Wayne County said. “So, that we can continue to monitor our classrooms, our children here in the county.”  

Throughout most of the summer, Wayne County saw new weekly cases stay below ten. As of July 28th, their seven-day average jumped to 31. The county Department of Health is watching.  

“We are encouraging individuals to wear their masks,” Director Diane Devlin explained. “Especially if it is indoors and if they are in a setting where they do not know the individuals around and what their vaccination status is.”  

Students of age have the lowest vaccinated rates in the county. Leaders of the Wayne Teachers Association plead for all parents to think of the health of teachers and other students by getting their kids who qualify for the vaccine.

“Vaccinations are safe, so the more kids we get vaccinated the quicker this can end,” Association President Jason Carter stated. “Most of the cases right now are all unvaccinated people. The more people we get vaccinated the fewer cases we have. Then this conversation of what does the school year look like really doesn’t have to happen about the opening.”  

The Wayne Teachers Association explained that all summer school students and staff have not been required to mask up and no outbreaks have been detected. Echoing parents, the opening plans should fall on districts.  

The Wayne County Department of Health told us a lack of transportation and outlets supplying the vaccine is another factor for low rates. They emphasize their clinic offers walk-in appointments every Wednesday as well as pharmacies.  

While the school district has yet to hear official policies set by the state level, nurses with the department of health state they have had deep discussions on what to expect with the school board to be ready. 

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