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Syracuse COE Hosts Discussion about COVID Safety in Schools

East Syracuse Minoa High School from website
E-SM School District website.
The entrance of East Syracuse Minoa High School

The Syracuse Center of Excellence brought health and education experts together last week to discuss the start of the new school year with “COVID Safety in Schools.” Most districts returning to in person learning and that comes with a state mask mandate in schools. Associate Professor Dr. Joseph Allen from Harvard University says some predict masking in schools will only last until there’s an approved vaccine for those under 12.

“That seems to make sense on its surface but, think that through.  Right now, the 12 to 18 year-olds are only 30 percent vaccinated.  We could very likely find ourselves in February vaccine approved for those under 12 but, still only 30 percent vaccinated.  What then?  Is it ok to take masks off or do we keep them on indefinitely?”        

The professor adds the US hasn’t been clear as to what its goals are from the beginning between tracking cases of the virus or severe disease and death. He says it’s important to remember COVID-19 happens through the airborne transmission of respiratory aerosols. Allen says that’s why he and his team recommend 4 to 6 air changes per hour in buildings through better air filtration or ventilation.

“First bring in more outdoor air, as much as you can.  Two, MERV 13 filters on your recirculated air handling system.  Three, use portable air cleaners with HEPA filters and it really is that simple and we know it can be  effective.” 

Over in the East Syracuse-Minoa School District, Superintendent Dr. Donna DeSiato says their goal is to have 100 percent of students back in classrooms. While masks are required in schools by the State, she’s hopeful masks won’t be required for the entire school year.

“I do think that everyone understands that our goal is not necessarily to remain masked all year.  Our goal is to start the school year in the safest level of mitigation that we can based on the fact that we have a high transmission rate right now.”

DeSiato says masking breaks are carried out in the district's schools. Staff are also encouraged to take classes outside, when possible, to allow for masks to be taken off. Desks have replaced long tables in cafeterias to ensure students are spaced at least 3 feet apart when they are unmasked while eating. Schools in Onondaga County are also mandated to test staff weekly for COVID, if they haven’t been vaccinated. Click here to read the district's reopening plan.