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Masks required in Erie County schools as Department of Health announces guidance

The health department says their goal is to return all students to in-person learning for every day this school year.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — With students soon returning to the classroom, the Erie County Department of Health provided an update Monday about health and safety guidance for schools.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein says their goal is to return all students to in-person learning for every day this school year.

Some of the topics the county addressed involved 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. 


Under this guidance, masks will be required while indoors for all individuals 2 years old and older regardless of vaccination status. This includes classrooms, non-classroom settings and buses. 

According to the county, students will be allowed to take mask breaks once every hour for about five minutes. During mask breaks, the county says students should be seated and stationary at their desks.

At this time, masks are strongly recommended while outdoors.

For anyone who cannot safely wear a mask because of a medical condition or disability, Erie County says those individuals should work with their school district for a "reasonable accommodation."

In terms of social distancing, Erie County is advising school districts to implement distancing measures "to the extent possible within their facilities but should not exclude students from in-person learning to meet a minimum distance requirement."

The Erie County Department of Health will require daily health screenings, including temperature checks and a COVID-19 symptom check when entering an Erie County school building. These checks will be required for all students, faculty, staff, contractors, vendors and visitors.

Regardless of vaccination status, if a student or staff member develops COVID-19 symptoms while they're in school, the new guidance states that the individual must be put in an isolation area at school. If that person is a staff member they will be sent home, if they are a student, they must be picked up by a parent and/or guardian.

The Erie County Department of Health will also require schools to maintain isolation areas and/or rooms to separate students and staff members from those who are exhibiting COVID symptoms.

“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,” Burstein said. “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.”

Poloncarz says the guidance is subject to change as the COVID-19 situation changes.

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