Within the state’s new mask mandate, that was unveiled late last week, the state health department appears to be reinforcing their stance against mask breaks for students in schools.
The guidance states that it “does not provide for the implementation of “mask breaks” during the school day.” It can be found online here. https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/12/2.60-determination-12.10.21.pdf
This comes a month after the state’s decision to allow local health departments to enforce the rule.
Local school leaders say the state’s new move on mask breaks for kids is a “Non-issue”
“Kids in Niagara Falls will take mask breaks. They need mask breaks, they’ve successfully conducted mask breaks without one iota of transmission to another student,” said Mark Laurrie, superintendent of Niagara Falls City Schools.
“We’ve been taking mask breaks since last year, when we knew less about what was going on and we’ve have had fewer transmissions in school than ever. We’re taking (mask breaks) in Niagara Falls. I respect the rules and guidance, but to start talking about mask breaks again at this time, is in my opinion a tremendous step back. We need to go the opposite way, talking about when we’re stepping off of masks, in general, and enticing people to do the right thing by reducing the amount of covid cases and getting to a number that will allow us not to wear masks.”
Michael Cornell, the president of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association and superintendent at Hamburg Schools agrees.
“The fact is that mask breaks are happening in every single school, in every single school district, everywhere in New York State, and probably in the United States,” Cornell said. “So, as far as school superintendents in Western New York are concerned, as far as families are concerned, it’s a settled matter. We will have mask protocols that allow for flexibility. The only humane way to have a mask mandate in schools, is to have flexibility around the protocols period end of story. It’s a settled matter.”
A representative with the Erie County Health Department said today their “epidemiology office’s school team has seen or suspected in-class or in-school transmission when the safety measures in place have been breached. Those safety measures include staying home when ill, distancing, and mask wearing.”
“We have stated before, this is not something our department plans to enforce with punitive measures. Our priority for our educational partners is, in fact, education on best practices. However, school administrators should understand that allowing mask breaks, which goes against current NYSDOH guidance, introduces another level of risk for their students, staff and families and deviates from the goal of maximizing in-person school attendance.”
Niagara County Health Department also says they have no plans on punishing districts to let kids have mask breaks.