County issues guidelines for schools

Reopening recommendations mirror those from state, federal health organizations

Posted

UTICA — Oneida County released guidelines for the reopening of local school districts on Tuesday — including the use of masks indoors and on buses regardless of vaccination status — in a bid, officials say, to preserve in-person learning and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in local school districts.

“As we head into the
2021-2022 school year, the
absolute top priority must be to have students learning full-time in the classroom,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.

“In order to accomplish this crucial goal, precautions should be taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and to keep our students, faculty and staff safe,” Picente said. “That’s why Oneida County is recommending that all school districts follow the reopening guidance provided by the CDC and the state Department of Education.”

To further assist school districts in their safe reopening this fall, Picente also announced that Oneida County will be allocating $5.9 million it received from the CDC to Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES to support health and safety protocols.

The funding, which passed to the county through the New York State Department of health, will be used to support diagnostic testing, vaccine promotion, contact tracing and air filtration system improvement in local schools.

The county’s recommendations are based on the guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York State Department of Education, local officials said, and include:

A strong emphasis being placed on vaccination for all eligible individuals;

The use of masks indoors and on buses regardless of vaccination status;

Maintaining a physical distance of at least three feet;

Screening testing to quickly identify cases;

Improving ventilation in facilities;

Routine cleaning and disinfection;

Following proper hygiene procedures and maintaining respiratory etiquette;

Staying home when sick and getting tested; and

Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine. 

Currently, only 63% of Oneida County residents 12 years and older have received a first dose of vaccination and just 32% of school-aged children ages 12-17 are vaccinated. The vaccine is not currently available for those under the age of 12 which has a direct impact on the level of protection in elementary schools, county officials said.

“Oneida County is in a much different position now than it was at the end of the last school year,” said Daniel W. Gilmore, Ph.D. MPH, Oneida County Director of Health.

“At that time, we were averaging 1.7 COVID-19 cases per day with a positivity rate of just 0.3%, whereas last week we were averaging 37 cases a day with a positivity rate of 3.6%. A combination of the rise of the Delta variant and fall of the vaccination rate has put us in a precarious position,” the county health director said.   

The county’s recommendations also include following CDC guidance that high-risk school sports and extra circular activities should be virtual or canceled in areas of high community transmission unless all participants and coaches/staff are fully vaccinated.

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