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Infectious disease expert: NYS reopening school plan could work

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says getting back to in-person classes for the fall will be based on whether or not the state can stay under a certain infection rate.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Schools can reopen starting in August, if and only if Governor Andrew Cuomo says the daily infection rate in the state stays under 5 percent on a 14-day average. 

Aside from the guidelines just put in place, Cuomo says the 700 districts across the state will need to develop their own flexible plans once they get the green light to reopen.

A local infectious disease expert says the state's plan could work.

"If the amount of disease is able to be kept at low levels as we've been doing for the last several weeks, with proper planning, I think we can certainly try to reopen schools in a safe fashion," said Dr. Thomas Russo, UB chief of Infectious Disease. 

If the time comes and the infection rate is above 9 percent on a seven day average in Western New York, Cuomo says schools may be forced to close. 

"We're not going to put our children in a litmus test," Cuomo said. "We're not going to put our children in a place where their health is in danger."

Among the state guidelines is expanding in-class instruction through available space already in schools, such as gyms. That also includes some throughout the community. 

Another guideline includes enforcing screening procedures such as daily temperature checks. 

Though important, Russo says it's not going to work right away.

"It's not going to identify children that are infectious and or faculty and staff or teachers if they're asymptomatic in the presymptomatic phase," Russo said. 

He says that's where several layers of protection such as wearing masks and social distancing will come into play. They're part of the guidelines Cuomo announced as well.

Cuomo says masks must be worn at all times except for during mask breaks, when students can properly social distance.

Russo says it may be harder for younger kids to follow those rules.

"Using masks at all times is going to be challenging and problematic but I think that we must remember that these children are very good at wearing masks for Halloween," he said. 

Russo says parents should start talking to their kids now about wearing masks and the changes they'll see in the new academic year. 

No matter what plans are in place, from the minute kids get on the bus to the time they arrive home, he says it'll be a challenge.

"It's going to be a complicated process but I know people have been working on plans for awhile now and I'm hoping that the plans are well laid out that we'll be able to give this a shot and see how it goes," Russo said. 

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