Here’s where we stand with COVID, vaccinations and back-to-school

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) – We don’t want to dampen your summer joy right now, but we have to take a moment to talk about COVID and back to school. Our COVID numbers in New York are starting to go up ever so slightly and we wanted to know what the vaccination rules are going to be when the school bell rings.

"Hold real still for me just for a second," Betsy, a nurse, told five-year-old Oliver Bermudez at the doctor’s office. "1, 2, 3. All done!"

Oliver just got his first COVID shot today in Brighton. He’s going to be in kindergarten this year.

"I think as a parent you have a moral obligation to do anything possible to keep your kid healthy and safe," his dad Gunito said. "And if it’s as simple as getting a vaccine that’s proven safe and effective, then why not?"

Just under 40 percent of children five to 11 years old in the eight-county Finger Lakes region have at least one shot. The percentage is into the 60s for middle and high schoolers.

Dr. Casey Kosiorek is the superintendent of schools in Hilton and is the head of the council of school superintendents in Monroe County.

Brean: "Have you received any direction from the state education department or state health regarding any new requirements or recommendations for the school year?"

Dr. Casey Kosiorek: "No, at this point in time we’re working under the most recent guidance."

As of June, the state health department’s position is that a COVID vaccination is not required for children to go to school. One Assembly bill would make it a rule but it hasn’t had a single vote and would not go into effect until the FDA officially approves the vaccine for all school-age children.

The health department says vaccination "is the leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease" in schools. And last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said "we aren’t looking at more restrictions right now because this time around, we have readily available vaccinations. Anybody can get a booster shot. If you’re over 50 you can get a double booster, which I’ve had. As well as the test kits are still widely available."

Brean: "What are you concerned about with COVID and the upcoming school year?"

Dr. Casey Kosiorek: "Well number one is to keep people safe. I think the other thing is the masking. The masking would be a brutal challenge for our districts."

Brean: "That’s not a requirement now, is it?"

Kosiorek: "It is not. It’s optional. I don’t think it’s the number one worry but I do know that is something that will be very difficult to navigate if that, if! If! If that becomes the expectation again."

Ontario County Public Health Director Mary Beer says she expects a second booster to get approved for people under 50 very soon.
And the first batch of vaccines with elements of the Omicron variant should be out in the fall. The Washington Post reports that "the change shows the FDA trying to be more nimble in efforts to keep up with a changing virus."