New York state is easing distancing restrictions for classrooms as part of its updated COVID-19 guidance, which was released late Friday.
The new interim guidance allows for at least three feet of distancing between students in the classroom, with certain safety measures in place, including the wearing of masks. There are also some exceptions to the three-foot rule.
And before a school can make any change to reduce physical distancing to less than six feet between students during academic instructions, the district is required to get community input from parents, community members, teachers, staff and local departments of health. This meeting must be held before any change to the physical distancing in schools can be made, said the state’s updated “Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools Master Guidance.”
School districts must post the amended plans online, and share with the local and state health departments, though the state does not review the plans, the health department said.
The state Department of Health updated its school guidance following last month’s recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state health department said schools can reduce distances between students in classrooms to three feet in elementary, middle and high school in counties with low, moderate and substantial transmission of COVID-19.
In counties where there is a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, middle and high schools must continue to maintain six feet of distancing if students cannot be placed in cohorts.
Cohorts are self-contained, preassigned groups of students in reasonable group size limits established by the schools in their reopening plans. Schools must enact measures to prevent intermingling between cohorts to the extent possible. Cohorting is also recommended if a school is using less than six feet of physical distance in classrooms, according to the state’s school guidance plan.
Faculty may instruct more than one cohort so long as appropriate physical distancing is maintained, according to the plan.
Six feet is still required between adults, when eating meals, and when students are doing activities that include the projection of voices, such as singing or playing an instrument.
The CDC considers a community to have a high risk of transmission if there are more than 100 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days. Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties all have high transmission, according to CDC data.
Transmission rates in the GLOW region as of April 7, according to CDC data, ranged from a low of 101.73 cases per 100,000 residents in Livingston County, to a high of 190.67 cases per 100,000 residents in Wyoming County. In Genesee County, the CDC reports 183.31 cases per 100,000 residents, and in Orleans County the data shows 146.21 cases per 100,000 residents.
The state’s updated “Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools Master Guidance” states:
• In counties with low and moderate risk of transmission, elementary, middle, and high schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms.
• In counties with substantial risk of transmission, elementary, middle, and high schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible.
• In counties with high risk of transmission, elementary schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible. However, in middle and high schools three feet between students in classrooms is recommended only when schools can use cohorting. When schools cannot maintain cohorting, middle and high schools must maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between students in classrooms.
• The CDC no longer recommends physical barriers for mitigation where physical distancing cannot be maintained. A preferred approach is enhanced ventilation and air filtration to dilute and remove any SARS-Cov-2 particles from the air as described below and in the CDC school guidance.
New York state had previously required six feet of distancing. Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance, allowing for three feet of distance with some exceptions.
Exceptions where a minimum of six feet of distance must be maintained are:
• Six feet is always the required distancing between adults (teachers, staff, visitors) and between students and adults.
• Six feet of distance is required when eating meals or snacks, or drinking, or other times masks must be removed. This may mean that meals cannot be eaten in classrooms that have been converted to three feet of physical distance during instruction time.
• Individuals participating in activities that require projecting the voice (e.g., singing) or playing a wind instrument must be six feet apart and there must be six feet of distance between the performers and the audience during performances and concerts.
• Six feet of physical distance must be maintained in common areas and outside of classrooms (e.g. lobbies, auditoriums, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and hallways), where possible.