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State drops ball with guidelines

The decision by the state Health Department to issue no COVID-19 school reopening guidelines is exactly what many have wanted and, at the same time, a stunning dereliction of the Health Department’s duty.

There are many people across the state who have wanted the state to take a step backward from the constantly shifting, ever-changing, impossible-to-comprehend and often contradictory COVID-19 guidelines, rules and dictates that have made headlines since March 2020. Conditions in Albany were often different than conditions in rural counties around the state, so the state’s rules and guidance, at times, seemed heavy-handed here. It would have been preferable to have decisions made locally, or, at least, to have had some local flexibility.

Taken from that perspective, the decision by Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, not to issue guidance at a statewide level gives more control to local school districts and health departments. We’re all for the state taking a step back.

At the same time, the decision is just one more example of the sort of wishy-washy confusion that has plagued New York’s COVID-19 response since last March. State officials have said for weeks guidance would be coming, so schools planned on their own while waiting for the final word from the state Health Department so they could finalize local school opening plans and get that information to parents. That was the plan through last Tuesday, when a health department spokesperson reiterated to the Syracuse Post-Standard that the state would provide guidance. Then, on Thursday, Zucker reversed course, saying the end of emergency regulations in June means the state doesn’t have a role to play in schools’ reopening plans. Zucker could have made that announcement in June but chose not to.

The lack of consistency from state officials is about the only consistent piece of the state’s handling of COVID-19.

A return to local control is preferable to the state’s meddlesome micromanagement. Is anyone surprised the state would handle the transition in a such a ham-handed fashion? We aren’t.