ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A recent memo issued by the New York State Department of Health changed the guidance on “test to stay” policies local school districts are allowed to implement, potentially leading to more quarantine time for students and a slower return to the classroom.
The new change, which went into effect on December 23 as most districts were entering winter break, says that test to stay will only be allowed for COVID-19 exposures that happen “in a school setting.” Previous guidance allowed all potential COVID-19 exposures to to be covered by test to stay for students, if the district or school could meet other requirements.
Since students have been away since the holiday break, and the new test to stay rules took effect on December 23, 2021, any potential COVID-19 exposure over the break would automatically trigger the default quarantine requirement set forth by the local health department, even if the student were to test negative.
The new change in test to stay policy is “entirely appropriate,” according to Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza.
“With the arrival of the omicron variant in our community, it is entirely appropriate to take a more conservative approach to test to stay,” Dr. Michael Mendoza said in a statement to News 8 Tuesday. “We know schools are very controlled environments where it is easier to identify COVID exposures and protect students, faculty and staff. Please remember, the best way to keep our students in schools is to get them vaccinated and boosted when eligible, avoiding test to stay altogether.”
Despite the change in test to stay policy, several local school districts, including Greece, Henrietta, and Pittsford, reported little to no change in attendance rates Monday compared to before the rule was implemented pre-holiday break.
Officials from the Spencerport Central School District reported approximately 15% of student absences for Monday and Tuesday, with 8% of teachers absent Monday and 12% Tuesday. They added that the number of absences were less than the daily average for November and December, but a slight uptick of COVID-related absences were reported compare to daily averages for the two months prior.
Gates Chili Central School District officials reported an 82% attendance rate Monday whereas the district is usually in the low 90s, district officials said. However, Gates Chili officials couldn’t say definitively, as of Tuesday, if the one-day drop in attendance was a direct result of quarantined students.
Other area districts have not immediately returned a request for comment.
According to the local department of health, Monroe County saw its highest number to date of new COVID-19 cases among school-aged children this past week.
From the week of December 27 through January 2, the health department reported approximately 1,200 new cases in kids ages 12 to 18, and 853 new cases in kids ages 5 to 12 — a sharp increase compared to recent weekly data:
Some other regional counties, like Wayne County, have not yet instituted test to stay policies for its schools, although Gov. Kathy Hochul has encouraged all counties to do so.
The governor said on Christmas Even that keeping schools open remains a priority and she said the test to stay strategy has proven effective. She advised all counties to implement the policy as more testing allows for it.
“The CDC just confirmed that test to stay works and now we are highly recommending that counties and school district implement this, and we’ll work with them,” Gov. Hochul said late last month. “We have the tests to be able to give to the schools.”
A statement from New York State Department of Health officials Tuesday to News 8 said: “Our guidance aligns with CDC TTS guidance which was based on studies involving exposures in the school setting. Local health departments continue to conduct case investigation/contact tracing for determining where the exposure occurred.”
According to the New York State Department of Health, extracurricular activities like sports, clubs and other events taking place after school, evenings or holidays are not permitted under test-to-stay. Additionally, students may only attend academic classes during the instructional school day and must remain in quarantine at all other times, according to state officials.
According to the new guidance, students can “test out of quarantine” after seven days if a diagnostic test is negative and no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.
The latest full state guidance on test to stay policies are included in the document below:
NYSDOH Test to Stay Memo
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.