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August 31, 2021 - 3:14pm

Genesee, Orleans health director mentions possibility of vaccine mandates for school teachers and staff

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, COVID-19, health department.

Now that a statewide universal masking mandate is in place for all persons in school buildings, a requirement that all teachers and staff be fully vaccinated could be next.

Paul Pettit, public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, this afternoon said he has heard that Gov. Kathy Hochul is advocating for that to happen, just as she did in instructing the New York State Department of Health to issue the mask mandate -- even after many school districts had developed their own reopening plans based on information that there would be no state guidance.

"The governor is exploring working on requirements for teachers and staff to become vaccinated, or provide and submit to weekly testing that is not in place currently – although we do know that it is one of her initiatives and desires to do that if she does end up with the authority to make that happen," Pettit said on the Zoom call.

To prepare for this situation, Pettit said the local health department is working with schools on testing.

"We do have funds to provide testing supplies to the schools so we’re in the process of getting that to them so they will have that available in their schools for staff or students to provide that onsite," he said.

Pettit admitted that the changing directives pertaining to masks in schools over the past three weeks "has been confusing, and frankly, a ittle frustrating, especially for our superintendents who have really worked hard in the lack of overall state guidance to come up with local plans that accommodated for CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines but also took into account the variance and differences from district to district."

He said his recommendation to superintendents -- who he meets with on a regular basis -- was to use CDC guidance as a blueprint to develop their plans "but ultimately the final decisions on what to include and how it was going to look in every school district was, obviously, we were leaving it up to the local district."

"Some districts already came out with their plans prior to the masking mandate," he noted. "Some we’re waiting to see what happened with the new governor coming in. But, either way, now we do have a new statewide mandate for universal masking which has been put in place by Governor Hochul."

Despite the change of direction, Pettit said the "collective goal all along" for everyone involved was to have all students return to in-person learning this school year ... "and to do it with as few disruptions to that end as possible."

Pettit said the local health department will continue to advocate for local autonomy, something it has been doing throughout the pandemic.

"We’re going to continue to support our schools and the districts as we’re able to," he said, adding that with universal masking in place, the need to quarantine people likely will be reduced. He said CDC guidelines do not require or recommend quarantining exposures to positive cases if both the case and the other contacts were fully masked.

The health director spoke about several other topics related to the coronavirus, as follows:

STATISTICAL INFORMATION

Genesee County:

  • Number of positives is at 5,615, with 77 active cases (15 hospitalized).
  • Recovered: 4,947. Deaths: 124 (per NYS data).
  • Positivity rate is 5.8 percent over the last seven days, with 114 positive tests out of 1,955 who have been tested.

In August, the county has had 253 cases, with 78 of those people fully vaccinated and 175 not fully vaccinated or status unknown. The breakthrough rate is 30.8 percent.

Orleans County:

  • Number of positives is at 3,304 total positives, with 64 active cases (two hospitalized).
  • Recovered: 2,844. Deaths: 83 (since the beginning of the pandemic).
  • Positivity rate: 5.3 percent over the last seven days, with 55 positive tests out of 1,039 who have been tested.

In August, the county has had 199 cases, with 34 of those people fully vaccinated and 165 not fully vaccinated or status unknown. The breakthrough rate is 17.1 percent.

Pettit said as far as the breakthrough cases, the symptoms aren’t severe or asymptomatic, meaning that the vaccine is working.

FOCUS IS ON GETTING PEOPLE VACCINATED

Pettit emphasized that health department personnel's main focus is on the unvaccinated, and encouraged those who haven't taken the vaccine to do so -- especially now that the Pfizer vaccine has been fully approved by the Food & Drug Administration. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still under "emergency use authorization" but are in the process of getting FDA approval.

He said approval for the vaccine to be administered to children 12 and under could happen within the next three months, and that vaccine will be available through the Genesee and Orleans health departments.

People with compromised immune systems or other medical issues will be eligible for a third dose of the vaccine, he said, which also will be available locally.

Concerning booster shots, Pettit said this vaccine will "build up and booster up immunity." Booster shots could be available as soon as Sept. 20, he mentioned, for those who had been fully vaccinated at least six months to eight months prior.

Statistically, in Genesee County 30,078 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine (60.2 percent), with the percentage of those who are fully vaccinated at 53.9. In Orleans County, the numbers are 18,999 (55.4 percent) and 48.6 percent.

OTHER PERTINENT INFORMATION

  • Both Genesee and Orleans are classified by the CDC as a "high" level of community transmission, based on a seven-day rolling average. Pettit said most of the state and nation are at that level.
  • He said that expiration dates on vaccination cards or Excelsior Pass aren't etched in stone as they were derived from data compiled at that time. He did recommend a booster shot, but said those not getting one still are considered fully vaccinated.
  • There are no local mandates on masking, but the guidance is to adhered to CDC recommendations to reduce spread as much as possible.
  • Local testing is provided by both counties on a weekly basis, currently one day a week (see link below). He said testing is getting more scarce as the level of vaccination increases.
  • Pettit said the health department is unable to verify the results of home test kits as they aren't being reported to the state system.
  • With flu season around the corner, Pettit advised all to follow public health guidelines -- avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; wash your hands frequently; stay six feet away from others; if you're sick, stay home.

IMPORTANT LINKS PERTAINING TO COVID-19

CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html

NYS Department of Education- Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-2022 School Year:
http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/back-school/nysed-health-and-safety-guide-for-the-2021-2022-school-year.pdf

Testing link for both counties:
https://gohealthny.org/covid-19-testing-information/

COVID data is updated on Genesee/Orleans Health Department emergin Issues page on Mondays and Thursdays in the afternoon:
https://gohealthny.org/emerging-issues

Daily (Monday-Friday except Holidays):
https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/5f8401b0516247b490934303e3975e49/

NYSDOH Vaccine Tracker:

https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/covid-19-vaccine-tracker

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