Erie Co. Health Department will not enforce state’s ban on student ‘mask breaks’

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BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) Most school districts in western New York have been violating state Covid protocol since the start of school two months ago, but the routine of allowing students to remove masks for five minutes every hour appears that it will continue virtually unchallenged.

Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein wrote a letter to the Williamsville School district this week alerting the superintendent that the health department received complaints from some parents about how the district is giving students occasional breaks from wearing masks, and how the State Health department actually doesn’t allow mask breaks.

“Kids cannot exist in school without pulling that mask down at certain times and certain places,” said Mark Laurrie, superintendent of Niagara Falls City Schools. “”Maybe half of the students take it at one time, the other half take it at another time.”

Mask breaks were permitted by NYS Department of Health each hour last school year, and when there was no mention made of it in the updated rules in September, districts kept doing mask breaks. But the state health department went so far as to clarify last week that the emergency regulations this year intentionally omit the opportunity for mask breaks and it’s up to local health officials to enforce that as they determine necessary.

“This has been bureaucracy at its finest really, so there’s been a lot of ambiguity with the protocols and what we follow, what we don’t follow, who we listen to, who we don’t listen to,” said Paul Casseri, superintendent of the Lewiston Porter Central School District.

Late Tuesday, the Erie County Health Commissioner’s office cleared up much of the uncertainty saying they have no intention of stopping ‘mask breaks’. The ECDOH released the following statement;

ERIE COUNTY, NY – To clarify the correspondence that the Erie County Department of Health
(ECDOH) sent to the Williamsville Central School District last week, and address the subsequent reactions
from school superintendents and parents, ECDOH does not intend to take enforcement measures against
schools that are providing students with mask breaks during the school day.
Our county’s current case rates and high totals of new daily cases – the highest since the wave of cases in
April 2021 – give our department cause for deep concern. Proper and consistent use of masks is an
important way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, but our department’s primary focus continues
to be education, outreach, testing and vaccination efforts – not punitive measures.
ECDOH joins with parents and school administrators in wanting to maximize in-person learning, prevent
illness among our county’s youngest residents, and bring a safe and quick end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is an opportunity to remind parents and caregivers that full vaccination against COVID-19 provides a
protective benefit for children ages 5 and older, and eliminates the need for quarantine if that child is a
COVID-19 close contact and remains asymptomatic.

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