School districts required to provide weekly COVID tests to teachers, staff

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School districts required to provide weekly COVID tests to teachers, staff
Public school districts throughout New York are required to provide teachers and staff members with weekly coronavirus tests, according to new guidance last week. (Photo courtesy of Metro Connection)

Teachers and other public school district employees in New York are required to participate in weekly coronavirus testing or provide proof of full vaccination, according to new guidelines presented by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week.

Hochul said the new guidance will help prioritize in-person education, a main goal of hers since taking over as governor last month. The emergency regulation, she said, will continue for school districts “until it is no longer necessary.”

“My top priority is to get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn, and everyone is safe,” Hochul said in a statement last week. “Our children deserve to be safe and protected in schools, and I am doing everything in my power to guarantee that.”

“We need to get all of our children back in schools and in a safe environment which promotes healthy learning,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said.

Hochul said the state will use $335 million in federal funds to launch a program that will provide coronavirus testing in all school districts. Officials said school districts are required to have the capacity to offer screening tests for any unvaccinated teachers and staff at least once a week and diagnostic testing to students, teachers or staff members who have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state’s Department of Health informed districts that they are still required to provide data for the New York state School COVID Report Card, along with developing partnerships with local health entities and vaccination clinics as resources for students, staff and faculty. Last year, districts on the North Shore worked with the county Health Department and Northwell Health for testing, vaccinations and contact tracing.

Last month, Hochul mandated that public school districts across the state enforce mask mandates for students, staff and teachers along with adhering to regulations and mandates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to CDC guidelines, a close contact is defined as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, two days after the illness began. Any individual in close contact with someone infected is required to stay home for 10 days after exposure.

State officials also said districts should explore potentially expanding their social distancing requirements, while still prioritizing in-person education. CDC guidelines say that a distance of three feet is recommended between each student, with six feet being recommended where one student, teacher or staff member is not vaccinated, regardless of the other’s vaccination status.

“While we continue to work with local school districts and local health departments, we listened to feedback from parents, teachers and education advocates who asked for additional statewide guidance on masks, vaccines, social distancing and testing and for recommendations on challenges like school bus safety and navigating high-risk sports and extracurricular activities,” Zucker said.

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