The State Education Department says it is in the process of developing guidance to help local school districts prepare for the upcoming school year under the latest circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidance document “will be based on Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics,” State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a memo to district superintendents dated Aug. 10.

Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend universal masking in schools.

The education department asked the governor’s office and the state health department to issue guidance, but the governor declined and said it would be up to local health agencies and school districts.

The Suffolk County Health Department has urged school districts to follow the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics guidance.

Noting that “some areas of the state” are experiencing increases in transmission rates — including Suffolk County — the commissioner said the State Education Department, “though it does not have direct jurisdiction over matters of public health… does possess oversight authority for school.”

The forthcoming guidance will address questions around the wearing of masks, social distancing, remote learning, transportation, community transmission tracking and potential funding sources available to schools and districts that may help with preparing for the upcoming school year and beyond, Rosa wrote.

Riverhead Central School District Superintendent Dr. Augustine Tornatore said Monday he expected to develop a plan this week for protecting children as they come back to school in light of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Suffolk attributable to the surge of the highly contagious delta variant.

The delta variant has caused an increase in breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people, who in turn become a vector for the spread of the disease.

Other areas of the country have experienced surges of the virus since the delta variant became prevalent. Some states where vaccination rates are low are seeing hospitals filling up and becoming overwhelmed. In Mississippi, a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country — 36% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated — and a mask-optional policy, outbreaks during the first two weeks of school resulted in nearly 1,000 children and 300 teachers and staff testing positive for COVID-19 and 5,000 students and teachers/staff in quarantine, U.S. News reported.

In Suffolk, 60% of the population is fully vaccinated according to county health department data released yesterday. That means 622,730 people (42%) are unvaccinated. One-third of the unvaccinated are under age 12 and not eligible for a vaccine.

Vaccination rates in the 11901 (Riverhead) and 11933 (Calverton) zip codes are lower than the county overall: 55% of population in the 11901 zip code is fully vaccinated and 52% in the 11933 zip code is fully vaccinated.

Since early July, COVID testing percent-positive rates have risen in Suffolk County and across the downstate area. After the “second wave” during and immediately after the fall-winter holiday season — cases rose from November through February — the number of new confirmed infections declined through spring. The testing percent-positive rate remained under 1% until early July, when the delta-driven surge arrived in New York. Confirmed cases and hospitalizations have risen since then. The test percent-positive rate in Suffolk was 3.9% Tuesday and 3.8% on a rolling seven-day average. The number of daily hospitalizations has more than doubled and new daily hospital admissions have tripled since early July, according to Suffolk County health department data.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.