What to know about COVID guidelines for NYC schools this year

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Meisha Porter join school leadership at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice in the Bronx, to greet high school students and celebrate reopening. Monday, March 22, 2021. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

New York City schools will shed many of its COVID prevention strategies from the past two years, according to new education department guidance posted Tuesday for the 2022-23 school year.

When the nation’s largest school system starts on Sept. 8, students will no longer be required to fill out a daily health screener to enter the building. Schools will no longer swab a portion of students and staff for COVID, as Chalkbeat reported earlier this month. But they’ll continue giving out at-home tests.

Masking will continue to be optional but will be required for students and staff who return to school five days after testing positive for COVID. 

And, while vaccines will still be required for staff and visitors, they won’t be mandated for students unless they are participating in sports or extracurriculars. 

Here’s what we know about COVID guidance for next year:

What happens if I have COVID?

In line with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students and staff must stay home for five days after testing positive. 

They can return to school on Day 6 if they have no symptoms, or if their symptoms are improving. They must wear masks through Day 10, following the day they developed symptoms or after their positive COVID test, whichever happened first. 

Families are urged to notify their school of positive test results, and the education department’s Situation Room — which handles communications over positive COVID results — is supposed to help the school notify people who have been exposed.

If you’ve been exposed to an infected person, the education department recommends taking an at-home test on the fourth and fifth day — at least 24 hours apart — post-exposure. 

If you have COVID symptoms, you should not come to school and should get tested. 

Will we still get tested in school for COVID?

No. The city is ending its in-school PCR testing program, in line with CDC guidelines. 

However, the CDC says schools could consider testing students and staff who participate in high-risk activities, such as band or sports, as well as students who are at high risk of severe illness, if COVID levels are high around the community. That doesn’t appear to be the plan in New York City, at least for now. 

What about at-home kits?

Schools will continue to send home kits to students who are potentially exposed to someone with COVID in class. 

Additionally, all students and staffers will receive four at-home tests a month for families to use when symptoms arise or after high-risk activities such as travel or large gatherings.  

Do I have to be vaccinated to attend school?

Like last year, staff and visitors to school buildings must show proof of vaccination against COVID. (A spokesperson did not immediately say whether booster shots would be required.)

Vaccination for students won’t be required, unless they participate in sports or extracurriculars where there is a high risk of contracting COVID. Still, city officials are recommending that everyone be vaccinated against COVID.

Mayor Eric Adams had shown early interest in requiring schoolchildren to be fully vaccinated against COVID. However, he then moved to loosen restrictions, lifting vaccine mandates for performers and athletes, as well as such requirements for students attending prom at the end of last school year. 

Will I have to wear a mask in school?

In places with a high COVID transmission, such as New York City as of Aug. 16, the CDC recommends masking. Despite that, masking will mostly be optional for students and staff, though officials said face coverings are “strongly recommended” while indoors, especially for those who are immunocompromised. 

Again, masking will be required for students who return to school on Day 6 after testing positive for COVID-19 or the onset of symptoms, through Day 10. 

Masks will also be required for people with COVID symptoms while at school, as well as those entering their school nurse’s office or school-based health center. 

What about ventilation?

City officials say each classroom will have at least two air purifiers. 

New York City officials recently spent $27 million on new air filters for classroom air purifiers. Those purifiers, from a brand called Intellipure, have come under intense scrutiny. Experts previously told Chalkbeat that while these purifiers are better than having nothing, they’re not as efficient at cleaning air as other brands.

Reema Amin is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on state policy and English language learners. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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