ITHACA, N.Y.—Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday morning that New York State will be relaxing guidelines for COVID-19 in schools ahead of the first day of school.

A positive test would require a student stay home for five days before returning to class, but now would have a far lesser effect on those who were around the student when they tested positive. There is also no longer a “test-to-stay” requirement.

“I’m grateful that this year we have a different scenario, a different landscape,” Hochul said as she announced the decision. She reiterated that COVID cases in the state are quite a bit lower this year than in years past at this time. “We want to be fully aligned with the CDC. […] The days of sending an entire classroom home because one person was symptomatic or tested positive, those days are over.”

Throughout her remarks, Hochul seemed to emphasize that keeping children in the classroom for in-person learning was crucial to her, despite any risks that are associated with spreading COVID-19 through exposure. She said there is now “two years of data that children are safe in classrooms” and that the previous school regulations had been created while acting on less information.

Hochul said the Department of Health and the Department of Education would both be sending out letters to schools and school districts later Monday to clarify the full extent of the guidance.

There have certainly been instances of widespread exposures and positive tests in certain schools throughout the last two years as in-person learning was gradually reintroduced, though even last year that usually resulted in large quarantine numbers but not full school closures.

It’s fairly difficult to get a true sense of the prevalence of COVID-19 locally right now. The increase in home testing and self-reporting positive tests (or lack of self-reporting positive tests) means that there are holes in the daily reported data. Wastewater data does not show particularly high prevalence right now in Ithaca or Cayuga Heights, certainly not compared to late June and early July. It’s important to remember, though, that every year since the beginning of the pandemic, the area has experienced a steep increase in COVID cases around this time every year as tens of thousands of college students pour back into Ithaca.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com