Reed, O’Mara, Borrello, Giglio, Palmesano, Byrnes: The New State Rules About Returning To School, Are Confusing

August 27, 2020

From Congressman Tom Reed:

Today, Rep. Tom Reed and 12 New York State legislators sent a joint letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health calling them out for 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;
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 Rep. Tom 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.”

In their letter, Tom and New York state lawmakers are calling 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.

The group noted: “Our school administrators, faculty, parents, and local departments of health have been working overtime to conquer the monumental task of opening schools under very stringent public health guidelines. After everything these groups have done, why would the New York State Department of Health keep changing their requirements to add more unachievable rules? This is unacceptable with less than two weeks until the school year begins.”

The full letter can be found copied below and linked here:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of New York State

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Cuomo,

We write to you on behalf of our local school superintendents, teachers, and parents from the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western regions. It has come to our attention that the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) issued new guidance regarding COVID-19 testing for schools. The announced guidance has caused a tremendous amount of uncertainty with our school administrators, county departments of health, and New York families. We urge you to immediately release updated guidance ensuring schools, families and their doctors are part of the decision as to when it is safe for a child to return to school.

Previously, the guidelines stated that if a school staffer or student exhibited one of the many symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, they would need to meet one of the following 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;
receive a negative COVID-19 test.
The latest NYS DOH now implies staff and students must hit all three criteria, meaning all staff or students must receive a negative COVID-19 test in order to return to school after displaying symptoms. This will cause a tremendous amount of problems for school officials, county administrators, parents, and students.

First, requiring this level of testing 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.

Second, 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.

Third, this new guidance takes 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.

Fourth, 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. This puts more of our kids at risk. Another financial burden is the requirement for a doctor’s note whenever a child is kept home from school, regardless of the reason. This is a waste of a doctor’s time and resources and a burden for families without a relationship with a family physician.

Our school administrators, faculty, parents, and local departments of health have been working overtime to conquer the monumental tasks of opening schools under very stringent public health guidelines. After everything these groups have done, why would the NYS DOH keep changing their requirements to add more unachievable rules? This is unacceptable with less than two weeks until the school year begins.

Please be advised at the federal level advocacy is occurring for the approval and release of additional rapid testing technology that will alleviate many if not all of the above concerns and we are encouraged such testing assistance and capacity will be delivered soon. In the meantime, it is still wrong for New York State to cut out a child’s doctor and their school nurse from the decision-making process. A one-size-fits-all bureaucratic rule never works, and we ask this mandate be adjusted accordingly immediately.

We urge you to take these key problems into account and roll back the recently issued misguided rules. The rules, as written, will cause a tremendous amount of problems and put school reopening in jeopardy. After all the work our schools, families, and local officials have put into creating a safe environment for learning, we cannot set them up to fail with these new guidelines. Without changes, we worry many schools will be forced to move to virtual only classes despite support from the community for in-person classes. We remain available to work with you to ensure we can all succeed together. Our children depend on it.

Sincerely,

Congressman Tom Reed

New York State Senator Fred Akshar

New York State Senator George Borrello

New York State Senator Rick Funke

New York State Senator Andy Goodell

New York State Senator Pam Helming

New York State Senator Tom O’Mara

New York State Assemblywomen Marjorie Byrnes

New York State Assemblyman Gary Finch

New York State Assemblyman Christopher Friend

New York State Assemblyman Andy Goodell

New York State Assemblyman Joseph Giglio

New York State Assemblyman Brian Kolb

New York State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano