BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Western New York is just weeks away from the back-to-school season. On Thursday, the CDC released new COVID-19 guidelines for students and staff as they head back to the classroom.

The nation’s leading health agency removed the close contact quarantine requirement, meaning that Americans do not have to quarantine if they are exposed to another person who tests positive.

Education and medical experts say these new recommendations mark a significant change in the pandemic. They say these guidelines allow for a return to normal for the youngest Americans. In schools, this removed the test-to-stay recommendation, the quarantine guidelines for close contacts and other guidance.

“Essentially schools can open in September of 2022 the way it opened in September 2019,” Michael Cornell, Hamburg Public Schools Superintendent and President of the Erie-Niagara Superintendents Association, told News 4. “Based on what we know from two years of in person learning, three feet, six feet, mask no mask, is not COVID is not something that spreads readily in schools and kids need normal school.”

The relaxed regulations could keep more students in the classroom.

“We’re looking for that balance of keeping kids in school and keeping them safe. And I think this guidance is trying to find that balance,” Dr. Thomas Russo, infectious disease professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine at the University at Buffalo, added.

Superintendent Cornell says kids need to be in school to participate in classroom and extracurricular activities. He says students lost out during the pandemic and the lack of socialization in school was harmful to students not only in Western New York, but across the country.

“That’s a mistake that we cannot repeat. We need to make sure that school is a great experience and a normal experience in 2022-2023. It’s been too long since we’ve had a normal school year,” Superintendent Cornell said.

Health experts say the new CDC recommendations does not mean that the pandemic is over. They stress that everyone should remain cautious, especially as the colder months and flu season approaches.

“It’s critical for parents to realize that this announcement does not mean that we are done with COVID,” Dr. Russo said.

Dr. Russo also said the vaccine and booster shot are still the best protection against the virus.

“The onus has shifted for the parents to keep their children safe, which includes a combination of vaccination, judicious mask use and if your child is sick, please have them stay home and get tested,” Dr. Russo concluded.

Superintendent Cornell said he will be sharing more information with Hamburg Schools families soon. He does not expect any additional requirements or guidelines from the New York Department of Health or the Erie County Department of Health.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore told News 4 that school officials need to keep a close eye on local COVID-19 infections to ensure Buffalo Public School faculty, staff and students are safe.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.