ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — The Department of Health and State Education Department issued a joint letter to New York schools urging them to take necessary precautions to stop the spread of COVID, the flu and RSV. Health Officials say the number of flu cases have tripled in the past month and flu hospitalizations have doubled and COVID-19 continues to pose a threat for unvaccinated or under vaccinated New Yorkers. 

The letter reads: “Communities and schools should encourage these common sense precautions to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses:”

  • Staying up to date on vaccines, including Flu and COVID-19
  • Washing your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds
  • Coughing or sneezing into your elbow rather than your hand
  • Staying home when sick or symptomatic
  • Wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask when in public indoor spaces

But how much of an issue are these viruses posing to schools? “You know I was with two large groups, two groups of superintendents last week and it just did not come up as an issue, so I just have not been hearing much about you know COVID infections and the other realms of viruses becoming an issue in schools yet,” said Robert Lowry, Deputy Director of the NYS Council of School Superintendents.

Lowry said the previous mask requirement did become controversial and a distraction for students and faculty. “Frankly it was a relief when the mask requirement was rescinded and you know, things seemed to proceed fairly well and as I said, the beginning of the school year, people were just very encouraged by how normal the beginning of the school year was,” he said.

Dr. Nazlie Latefi is a Respiratory Illness Expert. She said the effectiveness of wearing a mask, is still up for debate, “We don’t have any clear-cut controlled trials, controlled clinical trials, on whether masks prevent people from getting sick, we do have clear-cut data – especially from Asia – that masks prevent someone who are sick from transmitting.”

Latefi said it’s crucial we remember these viruses are all about the air droplets, which is why ventilation is so important, “We can open windows, make sure that we have proper air purifiers. I think it would be really great if schools considered air purification and ventilation.”