ALBANY — Rep. Tom Reed, State Sen. George Borrello and State Rep. Andrew Goodell are among a group of lawmakers who sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasting the state’s return to school guidelines.
Reed and 12 New York State legislators sent a joint letter to Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health calling them out for what they say are confusing and potentially disastrous back-to-school guidance. The newly released New York State rules dramatically expand the criteria children or staff must meet before they can return to school.
Previously, the state guidelines required students and staff to meet only one of these criteria: be quarantined for a certain number of days and be symptom-free upon return; receive approval from a primary care provider or school medical director after receiving an alternative diagnosis with similar symptoms such as ear infections, strep throat, seasonal allergies or other related illnesses or receive a negative COVID-19 test.
Current guidance now requires staff and students who exhibit symptoms to meet all three criteria, which means these students and staff will require a negative COVID-19 test to return to school.
This would place an undue burden on parents and families across the state, as well as cut children’s doctors out of the decision-making process. With this new policy, parents and school staff will often be responsible for the cost of COVID-19 tests. Likewise, these policies will unnecessarily overburden New York’s testing capacity, which in turn will take testing resources away from others.
“We care about making sure common-sense guidelines are put into place that allow for a safe, practical return to school for students and staff alike,” said Reed. “These new state rules have introduced a tremendous amount of confusion and concern from parents, students, and staff worried about the burden of unnecessary costs and excessive classroom absences. We are committed to working together to make sure parents, students, and staff can all safely return to school and succeed in the classroom.”
The letter calls for “common sense guidance that will provide clear, practical guidelines for a safe return to school that also does not overtax parents, staff, or the testing system.”
In the letter, lawmakers argue the new testing levels will “dramatically curtail available testing capacity. COVID-19 has a wide array of symptoms including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms also correspond with several common illnesses children get every year. If parents are required to have their child tested for exhibiting these symptoms, it will needlessly overwhelm our current capacity and take resources away from those that truly need it.”
In addition, the writers argue testing results can often be delayed for nearly a week.
“A child with a simple cough or runny nose, under these new rules, would be forced to stay at home and miss a week or more of school waiting for a COVID-19 negative test. Unnecessary absences will skyrocket, which in turn will limit children’s capacity to learn.”
Also, the letter charges that new requirements will take “a child’s doctor out of the picture. There are illnesses that can be ruled out by family physicians. Under the current language, a child could see their doctor, test positive for Strep throat and still need a COVID-19 test before considering returning to school. This is not only a waste of COVID-19 testing capacity; increasing the number of tests unnecessarily delays the turnaround time for others waiting for a test result.”
“Most major insurers are only reimbursing the cost of a COVID-19 test if it is medically necessary. By taking the doctor out of the equation, families will be forced to burden the cost of an unnecessary COVID-19 test. This could result in parents deciding to either not seek medical care for their child for fear of being required to personally cover a COVID-19 test, or parents trying to hide a child’s symptoms.”