Orange County Officials Discuss School Reopening Protocols During COVID-19 | WAMC

Orange County Officials Discuss School Reopening Protocols During COVID-19

Sep 4, 2020

The Orange County health commissioner is requiring that masks be worn in all county schools as well as in the transportation to and from school. It comes as the county executive held a virtual Q&A on back-to-school safety Thursday evening.

Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman’s public health order mandates that masks be worn in all public, private and Charter K-12 schools and educational facilities in the county and on public and private transportation to and from school. This comes as she and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhuas held a Facebook question and answer session with two Orange-Ulster BOCES officials. Neuhaus reads a question that Gelman answers.

“Pre-K kids, masks, no masks?” asks Neuhaus.

“So anyone over the age of 2 or medically able to tolerate a mask obviously should wear a mask,” says Gelman

Gelman answered a question about her order’s reference to mask breaks.

“Generally speaking, a mask break has to take place in a very well ventilated area with maximum amount of social distancing available,” says Gelman.

The New York State United Teachers union, or NYSUT, has previously called for a statewide order requiring masks in schools. As for mask material, Gelman says no face shields alone or masks with valves.

“Gators and the bandanas, not ideal, but better than nothing. Essentially, even that with depending on material,” says Gelman.

Mark Coleman is director of operations for Orange-Ulster BOCES, where classes began Thursday.

“But what we have chosen to do at BOCES, I can only speak for us, is we have installed temperature-sensing stations,” Coleman says. “So when you enter into one of our facilities, your temperature is taken automatically, and if you pop over 100 degrees on the screen, we have nursing staff, they’ll pull you aside just to double-check you.”

BOCES is also using daily questionnaires and sign-in forms for rooms to ease contact tracing if necessary.

“What type of HVAC adjustments to that school bus are being made, so” asks Neuhaus. 

“Well, I believe the recommendations say, they recommend to open the windows because a lot of school buses don’t have air conditioners,” says Coleman.

Again, Gelman:

“So the reality is, as schools reopen, we will encounter cases. That’s just the basic reality of it. We plan to evaluate every situation closely,” says Gelman. “Obviously, we will balance the desire to keep the school open safely while still protecting the public health of the individuals there.”

“What is the threshold for the state of New York with the colleges, if 5 percent test positive, they have to stop for the semester. What is the threshold for here of we have…?” asks Neuhaus about K-12 schools.

“Nine percent,” Gelman answers.

Area residents were posting lots of questions during the livestream; some say they don’t understand why the new policies vary from school district to district. As for a question about sports, Gelman says the state is permitting low- and moderate-risk sports, with further guidance imminent. Orange-Ulster BOCES District Superintendent William Hecht:

This was a hot topic across the state in terms of when sports should begin. It’s been on our superintendents’ agendas over the last several weeks. And our superintendents would absolutely love our students to return to athletics. It’s something that they wish to happen. It’s just a matter of when,” Hecht says. “And they are discussing it. The athletic directors are talking about it. They’ll come out certainly sometime soon with a plan for sports.”

Republican County Executive Neuhaus says he is keeping his kids home for remote learning while Dr. Gelman is sending her three children to school in-person.

“But we have been running something comparable to a boot camp in our household for handwashing, keeping your distance and actually retaining and maintaining that masking requirement where they’re keeping it on for a couple of hours a day, where they’re getting acclimated to even getting comfortable wearing the mask,” Gelman says.

She urged residents to steer clear of large gatherings over Labor Day weekend in preparation for school reopenings, noting parties and large clusters where people have flouted mask wearing and social distancing rules have been responsible for a number of outbreaks across the state.