Modified: August 23, 2021 2:23pm

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ERIE COUNTY, NY – The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) released a set of requirements and recommendations for Erie County grades pre-K to 12 public, private and charter schools for the 2021-2022 school year.

“This guidance reflects two common goals shared by Erie County, parents, pediatricians and local school leaders: the need to return students to an in-class learning experience while minimizing the risks of COVID-19 transmission in schools,” said County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

“We designed these recommendations based on the best available research and our department’s experiences with schools, camps, and youth sports during the last school year,” explained Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “Last summer, New York State established extensive COVID-19 requirements that placed a heavy burden on schools and families. Now that we have another year’s experience fighting COVID-19, we were able to streamline previous recommendations in ways that, when followed, will insulate classroom settings from increases in community COVID-19 transmission as much as possible while students are able to learn in school.”

“Schools are congregate settings where a very vulnerable population, especially children under age 12 who aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, spend large amounts of time together,” Poloncarz offered. “I thank local school leaders who discussed the matter with us and agree the guidance issued today is the best way forward to returning all students to an in-class setting, while ensuring the safety for students, teachers, and other school personnel.”

ECDOH invited school and school district leaders to a meeting to review this guidance later today. “From last year’s Virtual Learning Center program to the financial relief we provided to school districts from the county’s allotment of CARES Act funding, our school guidance is a continuation of Erie County’s support for schools and families,” said Poloncarz.

Dr. Burstein continued, “Our epidemiology team will continue its intensive COVID-19 case investigations among students and school staff. Also, many districts have opted in to our school-based COVID-19 testing program, which will offer optional in-school testing for students and staff.”

“I am grateful for our partnership with the County Executive and the Commissioner of Health to provide guidance to support for our shared goal of safely returning all students to in-person learning,” said Lynn Marie Fusco, Ph.D., Erie 1 BOCES district superintendent and chief executive officer.

“Together with the county, we share the priority to fully return students to in-person instruction,” said David O’Rourke, Ph.D., Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES district superintendent and chief executive officer. “Our school districts are grateful for the County Health department’s work to provide guidance that keeps students and staff as safe as possible.”

"Our school-aged children have not been able to attend school for a full 180 days of in-person learning since the 2018-2019 school year,” said Michael Cornell, Hamburg Central Schools superintendent and Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association president. “Nothing is more important than doing all we can to ensure a full year of in-person learning for every child in 2021-2022."

“Kids need to be safely in school, and there is no one thing that by itself completely prevents COVID-19 from reaching students, teachers, and staff,” said Dr. Dennis Kuo, a UB|MD pediatrician and Buffalo Public Schools medical director. “The best approaches to health and safety are multilayered and sustainable, and Erie County’s school guidance offers multiple, common sense tactics for schools to implement and maintain."

Topics covered in the school guidance document include: masking, physical distancing, health monitoring, returning to school following illness, notification of positive cases, quarantine, youth sports, COVID-19 vaccination, screening testing, cleaning and disinfection, and ventilation.

This guidance document was developed based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools and additional documents from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), New York State Education Department and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It was also informed by comments from local school leaders, pediatricians and ECDOH epidemiology staff. The guidance is subject to change.