HAMBURG, NY (WKBW) — There is a growing call to unmask children in schools across the state and it is coming from school leaders.
Here in Western New York, superintendents in Erie, Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to provide an “off-ramp”and provide a timeline for ending masking in schools.
But Governor Hochul has already said in order to nix masks in schools, she wants to see vaccination rates improve among school age children.
School superintendents are also asking power be restored to districts to make decisions. They want mitigation measures, not mandates.
“After 23 months of a pandemic, I think people are looking forward to returning the school experience to normal choice about masks,” remarked Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central School District.
Cornell also serves as president of the Erie Niagara Schools Superintendents Association.
The Association issued a letter last week signed by 38-school district leaders asking Governor Hochul for a timeline on ending masking in schools when the state mandate expires February 21.
“We have very, very little spread of COIVD, in fact, in those environments, even when a child has been exposed to somebody who is infected with COVID, it almost never results in an infection,” Cornell explained. "Even when kids are unmasked, exposure to COVID rarely results infections."
School leaders say they want Governor Hochul to provide an “off-ramp” so students, families and staffers can prepare for when schools have the right to decide about mask use in schools.
But the governor said unless more school age children are vaccinated, masks won't be removed.
Governor Hochul says wants the vaccination rate among 5 to 11 year olds higher than the current 34-percent.
“And the one thing I’m asking all parents to do and the pediatricians, who advise them, let’s get more children vaccinated, so they have that suit of armor they need to be protected,” Hochul stated Monday.
State numbers show 76-percent of 12 to 17 years olds have received their first dose of the vaccine in the state, but Hochul says she wants that number higher and is encouraging parents to have their children get second dose and a booster.
“If we have very high vaccination rates, in our students then we will be able to get rid of those masks much sooner,” declared Dr. Thomas Russo.
Russo, infectious disease specialist at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine, says he agrees with the governor.
Dr. Russo says we are not quite ready to remove masks for school children, given the number of COVID cases.
“With this high community burden of disease at this point, I think we want to carry on with mask use until we get those case numbers down to a much lower level,” said Dr. Russo.
“Dr. Russo what would a benchmark or metric be for this?” Buckley asked.
“I think it is some combination of low community burden of disease as defined by the CDC, combined with hospitalization numbers being at a very manageable level as well,” responded Dr. Russo.
Superintendent Cornell says demanding higher vaccination rates among school children could backfire.
“I think it is a tricky metric because people may feel that tying too close to vaccination rate is coercive," Cornell replied.