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New State Guidelines Bolster County's Plan To Screen For COVID In Schools

County Executive Ryan McMahon September 2, 2021 Covid-19 Press Briefing
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon delivers an update on COVID-19, Sept. 2, 2021.

Just days before students return to class, the state and county separately announced new COVID-19 screening policies for schools.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon on Thursday morning said schools will be asked to randomly test a portion of a building's population on a regular basis.

“It will be a weekly screening program for any school, K-12, public, private, or charter, in Onondaga County,” McMahon said during a county COVID briefing.  

McMahon said he expected all districts to comply but acknowledged it was voluntary, yet he would consider an executive order if some opted out.

Hours later that evening, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued guidance that schools implement a similar process.

A spokesman for McMahon said it is unclear whether the state's policy requires students and staff to opt in and if there is a minimum percentage of a school's population that must be tested.

The county's plan called for 10% to be randomly screened each week. McMahon said at the Thursday morning COVID briefing that the regular testing will help officials identify and quickly respond to cases in schools that may otherwise go undetected.

Cases in the county are growing once again amid the more infectious Delta variant. There were 848 positives reported for the week ending Aug. 28, according to the county’s website. A month prior, there were 207 cases reported the final week of July.

However, the recent increase is still far below the surge seen over the winter when weekly new cases peaked at 2,635 in early January.

But McMahon pointed to one positive development: there have been no large COVID outbreaks traced back to attendees at the New York State fair.

“What has not been demonstrated was any sort of clusters from the fair — superspreader-type things that there was a lot of anxiety about,” McMahon said.  

The county on Thursday reported 116 COVID cases, 17 of which were among children under 12, McMahon later posted on social media. The new figures make for 808 active cases in the county, he said. McMahon also reported one person in a nursing home died from the illness.

The county is hosting a COVID-19 testing opportunity for school staff and students ahead of the new school year. Those heading back to class can get a rapid test on Tuesday at NBT Bank Stadium from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 3 p.m. Students under 18 will need a parent or guardian present.