When this school year began, there were fewer requirements and more recommendations than were in place a year earlier for how to manage the COVID-19 virus. School officials had the option to adopt more stringent requirements, and in New Paltz some of the rules have been stricter than the state and federal guidelines. For example, it’s not necessary this school year to attest that one does not have a variety of symptoms, or to have one’s temperature taken upon entry. On the other hand, until recently, district employees and students haven’t been allowed to return to a school building until there is no fever for a full 48 hours. The guidance is just 24 hours, and Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina said at the December 1 School Board meeting that this shorter window has now been adopted in New Paltz. Vaccinated students will also no longer be subject to quarantine automatically if exposed. They will be able to attend class as long as they remain free of symptoms. County health workers will be conducting “wellness checks” to monitor those situations.
The number of cases are on the rise in the county and that’s been reflected in the schools. This is consistent with what happened a year ago, affirming that when temperatures drop and more activities are moved inside, this virus has a greater opportunity to spread. The Superintendent reiterated a plea to “continue to be vigilant and follow the guidance that has worked,” including the covering of both mouth and nose to reduce the amount of virus that is spread simply through breathing. What the Superintendent said would help is more state money and named two specific needs. One is the hiring and training of more people to trace the contacts of people who have the virus. The other is to support a “test to stay” initiative, in which someone who has had close contact with a coronavirus patient must be given a rapid test each morning for seven days in order to remain in class. The overall rate of infection in schools is quite low — Board president Bianca Tanis referenced a study in the Lancet showing that it’s less than two percent — and this could remain low if state legislators pony up the cash, district leaders believe.