Masks required indoors in Erie County schools, but not outdoors


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On Monday morning, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein laid out the guidance for local schools as the new school year gets closer.

In all public, private and charter schools in Erie County, masks will be required in every classroom setting and on buses, with a chance for five minute mask breaks each hour. Schools in Erie County are required to follow all applicable state guidance for facilities and programs.

“Those parents who refuse to have their children masked in school, they’re just not gonna be allowed into school,” said Poloncarz. “They have to wear a mask or they won’t be allowed in school, and if they choose, they can home school their children. They have that option.”

In high school sports, masks are required unless you’re on the field. Still, the county “strongly recommends masking for all youth sport players during play and practice unless they’re unable to physically tolerate masking.”

If a team has even one positive case, vaccinated players and coaches can continue playing, but unvaccinated players must pause. If there are two or more cases, the whole team must pause to mitigate the risk of spreading it around.

“These are sensible, they’re tested, they worked last year. We believe very strongly that they will work this year,” said Dr. Dennis Kuo is one of 70 local pediatricians who signed a letter urging Erie County to mandate masks in schools.

School officials can decide for themselves how close to put the desks and tables in each room and how far apart to place kids on the buses. Michael Cornell appreciates the flexibility. He is the president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association.

“The way you might operationalize that in a kindergarten classroom may look different than it looks in a senior Economics class. So, we’ve got the clarity where we need it, we’ve got flexibility where it’s important,” said Cornell.

If there is a positive case in a school, any unvaccinated student who was within three feet of that person for at least 15 minutes will have to stay out of school for 10 days, according the Dr. Burstein. “We really depend on the schools to tell us who were the close contacts in the schools. So we’re relying on the schools hopefully they will all have seating charts and know who was sitting where and when so it’ll be easy for them to get those lists together and that includes in the buses.”

MORE | Erie County health officials to release guidance on schools K-12, parents push for more remote learning options

Erie County is currently what the CDC refers to as an area of “high transmission.” During the school year, masks will be required for anyone age two or older while indoors. Outside, masks are highly recommended by the Erie County Department of Health, but they’re not required.

During meals, students will be able to take their masks off, but they must stay at least three feet apart and a seating chart must be kept.

Mask breaks will be allowed for students once per hour, for five minutes. During these breaks, students should be seated and stationary.

Students involved in music classes must be at least six feet away from others if they sing or play a wind instrument. This counts for lessons, practice and performances.

In addition to these guidelines on mask-wearing, the county recommends that people socially distance where possible.

Erie County says daily health screenings are required “with options for home health questionnaire or in-person screening.”

Currently, people who are under age 12 cannot get vaccinated. Vaccination is not required for school staff.

Unvaccinated students and staff will be subject to weekly tests.

Erie County’s full guidance on schools can be found here.


Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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