Amid shifting state and federal guidance on school safety during the coronavirus pandemic, the Putnam County Department of Health has worked to help school districts understand the ever-evolving rules, but the county health department does not make the rules or issue its own guidance on COVID-19 and schools, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell said.
“There has been a lot of confusion regarding who is making the decisions about whether children are in school full time, on a hybrid schedule or fully remote,” County Executive Odell said. “We want to be clear: the school districts in Putnam County make their own decisions based on guidance issued by the New York State Department of Health.”
Throughout the pandemic, county health department’s role has remained consistent: to interpret guidance, recommend mitigation efforts, issue mandatory orders of isolation of infected individuals, identify contacts and issue associated orders of quarantine.
The Putnam County Department of Health does not develop the guidance or determine the adequacy of return to school plans the school districts develop. Rather, the districts each have committees made up of local stakeholders that consider their best options. Each plan must adhere to state and CDC requirements regarding in-person learning and standards for the reduction of the risk of transmission of this virus. Each district’s plan must be submitted to the state.
The New York State American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement this week noting that too many children have fallen behind and it urged a statewide approach to school reopening. It called for immediate school reopening based on scientific and epidemiological evidence, with frequent rapid testing of students and staff, and appropriate mitigation.
“The academy said the state Department of Health and state Department of Education should develop a ‘comprehensive and cohesive’ approach to school reopening based on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the local region,” said Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD, Putnam County Commissioner of Health. “A statewide approach would eliminate the confusion we see in the community and would put every district on the same playing field.”
The NYSAAP called for schools to be treated as essential services, and be made the first to reopen following improvement in a community’s disease data. the NYSAAP statement said.
"After a year of the pandemic, we need to get students back in the classroom,” Putnam County Legislator Joseph Castellano said. “We need the state to update their guidelines and help us get kids back to school now."