COVID guidance for NYC schools: Here’s what you need to know for this year

A gloved hand applies a flesh-colored bandaid to a child’s arm. The child is wearing a pink and white tie-dyed shirt rolled up to the shoulder. A few strands of dark hair are visible on the child’s shoulder.
Schools Chancellor David Banks encouraged families to stay up-to-date on COVID vaccines. (Emily Elconin for Chalkbeat)

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COVID has not disappeared from New York City, but the map showing the daily number of cases among students and staffers across schools has. 

The Education Department scrapped the map on Monday. 

Officials confirmed that schools are no longer reporting cases, though they said the Health Department would continue to closely monitor cases among school-aged children. 

The map had been updated as recently as Monday morning. Three students and nine staffers had tested positive for Covid on Sept. 10, according to the data posted then. But after a reporter inquired about the data, the map was taken down after two years of daily updates. 

The move comes amid an uptick in COVID cases across the five boroughs. The city saw a 25% increase from the previous week in the number of patients hospitalized with COVID, reaching 619 on Tuesday, according to a tracker created by the news site THE CITY using state data. There were about 87 cases per 100,000 people, according to New York City’s daily average of the last seven days from the Health Department. 

The Education Department has sent out little information to families this year about COVID protocols in schools, but has guidance available on its website. 

The department’s guidance remains consistent with latest recommendations from the city’s Health Department, the state, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Education Department officials said.

“COVID remains top of mind for many families,” schools Chancellor David Banks told reporters last week. “So we encourage families to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines. We’re also closely monitoring upticks and ensuring that schools are prepared for an increase in respiratory illnesses in the community.”

Here’s what you need to know about the approach to COVID in schools this year.

What if a student or school staffer tests positive for COVID?

The rules remain the same as last year. 

First, if someone tests positive, they should isolate to help prevent spreading the virus to others. 

Quarantine should last five days, with the day of the positive test considered Day 0. The student or staffer can return to school on Day 6 if they have no symptoms or the symptoms are improving and they have been fever-free without medication for 24 hours. They must continue to wear a mask indoors until Day 10 following the start of the symptoms or when they tested positive. 

The teachers union also has guidance for educators around COVID-related absences.

Do students and staffers still have to mask if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID?

Yes, according to city guidance. They should wear masks for 10 days when they are not able to separate from others, including at home. 

Can I still get an at-home test kit?

Schools will no longer regularly send at-home COVID test kits in students’ backpacks, as they did last year. But they will have kits for those who request them, Education Department officials said. 

Many schools might have a stockpile of kits from the past school year. Though the expiration date listed on the box might be past due, it’s possible the tests are still good. You can check the expiration date here by using the lot number on the box. The Food and Drug Administration has extended the expiration dates of a number of test kits, sometimes by up to two years. 

Are parent-teacher conferences in person again?

No, under the recent teachers union contract, schools will hold parent-teacher conferences remotely. They may, however, be held in person upon request by parents or caregivers. 

Other parent engagement activities, including grade conferences, can also be conducted remotely.

What’s happening with ventilation at schools?

The city is in the midst of its third round of purchasing replacement filters for the air purifiers it bought at the height of the pandemic, Education Department officials said. At that time, each classroom was outfitted with two air purifiers, though questions remain as to whether the city got the best bang for its buck on the purifiers it purchased

Officials said they have taken multiple steps to improve ventilation in schools, including equipping HVAC systems with MERV-13 filters as well as window air conditioners with MERV-13 filters. They’ve also trained maintenance staff to use anemometers and carbon dioxide readers to check air quality within rooms, and continue to ensure that building ventilation is working as originally designed, they said.

“We have ensured that all ventilation systems are in good working order,” Banks said. “And our custodial engineers are prepared to troubleshoot any ventilation concerns.”

Are COVID vaccines required?

Vaccines are not required, but they are recommended. As of November 2022, 53% of students were fully vaccinated, according to public data.

“Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, along with other proven prevention tools — like masking, testing, and staying home when sick — continue to be our best defense against COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses,” Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said last month in response to the rise of another new variant. 

The FDA approved a new round of COVID boosters this week. Anyone 5 years old and up can receive a single dose of the shot, whether or not they’ve been previously vaccinated. Those under the age of 5 can receive the updated vaccine as well, and have different options depending on whether they get it from Pfizer or Moderna.

Alex Zimmerman contributed.

Amy Zimmer is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat New York. Contact Amy at azimmer@chalkbeat.org.

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