When getting your children ready for the first day of school, don’t forget their face masks.

Per Gov. Kathy Hochul, masks will be required when school begins this year.

That directive just makes sense. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Health Department washed its hands of the issue, saying it would be up to individual districts to set policy, the state Education Department tried stepping in with recommendations, but they were just that, recommendations. 

“My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely,” Hochul said in a media release her first day in office. “I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools, and we are launching a Back to School COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient. We are also working to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly, and we are going to accomplish all of this by working in partnership with all levels of government.”

COVID numbers are on the rise again in the area, not to the peak we saw during the winter holidays, but still at a concerning pace. As of Thursday, all of our counties were still listed as high or substantial risk of community transmission on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

As we all know, schools can be hotbeds of transmission of illnesses. COVID is no exception.

What makes masks being required in schools the right call, especially around here, is that a large portion of the school population cannot be protected through vaccination. Masks and proper hygiene are the only protection children younger than 12 have available to them.

Some of our schools house several grades in one building. The younger students cannot be completely separated from the older ones, since common spaces, such as cafeterias and gymnasiums, and some classrooms, are shared.

With schools returning to full time in-person instruction, students will not have the option of social distancing at all times. Hallways and classrooms will be more crowded than last year.

Early on in the pandemic, very few children were hospitalized with Covid. Even if they did contract the disease, the risk of severe illness was very low. The delta variant has changed that. A record number of children were hospitalized for COVID-19 earlier this month. 

“This is not last year’s Covid,” Sally Goza, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN on Aug. 14. “This one is worse and our children are the ones that are going to be affected by it the most.”

That is also why we support a plan for unvaccinated school staff to be tested weekly. We wouldn’t object if the same was done for students 12 and older.  If nothing else, the inconvenience of the regular testing may convince some vaccine-hesitant people to finally get the shot. 

Vaccination is key to stopping this disease. Until a vaccine is approved for children 5 and older, extra steps must be taken to protect our vulnerable population.

We encourage all school employees and students who are eligible to make an appointment today to get vaccinated. 

Masks are not the most comfortable thing in the world, but a ventilator is worse. In schools, wear a mask. Practice good hygiene. If you are sick, stay home.

Our children’s health may count on it.

— The Daily Star, Oneonta

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