Will back to school mean back to COVID?

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The state is making COVID-19 rapid test kits and masks available to school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services by request, the governor announced in a release on Tuesday.

This comes amid reports of a new variant and following a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations this summer.

In Albany County, 36 people were hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past week, up 80 percent from the prior week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, at 7.2 per 100,000 of population, this is still considered “low” because it is fewer than 10 per 100,000.

With the new BA.2.86 variant now detected in New York, the release said, the state’s health department and Wadsworth Center will continue to monitor the situation and track new variants to help keep New Yorkers safe.

A new sublineage of the Omicron variant, BA.2.86 has the potential of escaping the antibodies that protect people from getting sick — even if people have been recently infected or vaccinated.

In an Aug. 23 risk assessment, the CDC says, “Based on what CDC knows now, existing tests used to detect and medications used to treat COVID-19 appear to be effective with this variant. BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines.”

Governor Kathy Hochul is also advising schools to follow CDC guidance to help protect students in the classroom.

“Thanks to the hard work of New York schools, teachers, and parents, we have come a long way to ensure students can safely return to the classroom,” Hochul said in the release. “Frequent testing for COVID-19 is an important part of keeping our kids safe and preventing an outbreak, and I will continue working to ensure our school districts have the resources they need to provide a safe, in-person learning environment for our students.”

This week, the release said, the state will conduct outreach to the State Education Department and BOCES to survey needs for test kits and masks. After the requests have been submitted, the state will deliver the requested tests and N-95 and KN-95 masks to each BOCES for distribution to school districts.

“As we start the new school year, and once again see an uptick in COVID-19 across the state, I urge all students, teachers, and parents to remember COVID tests are easy to use as well as highly accurate,” said Health Commissioner James McDonald in the release.

At-home tests are also for sale at many local pharmacies.

“Also know that COVID is a treatable disease,” McDonald went on. “If you have symptoms, get tested. If you test positive, stay home and stay away from other people, especially those who are vulnerable to serious illness. And, to improve your chances of not having serious illness, speak with a health care provider about treatment.”

Schools that experience outbreaks are advised to work with their local health department for timely outbreak response support and to follow CDC guidance.

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