New York State followed the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s lead and eased up restrictions for COVID-19 protocol for graduations and classrooms.

For outdoor events, ceremonies of over 500 people are limited to 20% capacity in venues of 2,500 or more seats. Ceremonies between 201 and 500 people have a 33% capacity cap and ceremonies of up to 200 people or two attendees per student have a 50% capacity cap.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the lack of ceremonies due to COVID in 2020 was personal to him.

“My daughter graduated last year. She didn’t have a graduation,” said Cuomo on Monday. “She missed it very much and so did I. The graduation ceremonies we think are important and we hope schools have graduation ceremonies, we just want them safe and we want them smart…For all events, face masks, social distancing, health screening, contact tracing information are required.”

The rules are stricter for indoor events. Ceremonies of over 150 people have a 10% capacity cap, which applies to venues with 1,500 or more seats. Ceremonies of up to 100 people/two attendees per student have a 50% cap. Medium-sized ceremonies between 101 and 150 people have a 33% cap. For these venues, all attendees have to show proof of vaccination or a recently negative COVID-19 test.

As of Monday, there were 4,118 COVID-related hospitalizations statewide with 860 of those patients in intensive care, which is the lowest since Dec. 5. The statewide COVID positivity rate is 3.75% and the 7-day positivity rate for COVID tests in New York City is 3.2%; the lowest in a month. Fifty-eight New Yorkers died from COVID-19 on Monday, April 12.

Last month, the CDC moved their social distancing guidelines from 6 feet to 3 feet in classrooms. The New York State Department of Health finally responded and adjusted COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools.

The new guidelines also allow for 3 feet of social distancing between students in classrooms of every grade level in counties with low-to-moderate numbers of coronavirus infections. The state still recommends that counties with higher rates remain at 6 feet.

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta stated that this is what the union has wanted all along and had a positive outlook on the future for classrooms across the state.

“As educators, we know that the best place for our students to learn is in person in the classroom,” said Pallotta. “What we’ve wanted from the very beginning of the school reopening process is for that to happen in the safest possible environment. In adopting new physical distancing guidelines in line with CDC recommendations, the state is making it crystal clear that distancing is only one part of a layered mitigation strategy.”

As part of New York City’s new guidelines, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a school wouldn’t close unless four or more people tested positive for COVID and those cases have to be traced to different classrooms and the parties were exposed to the virus in-school. Only then would the city close the school for 10 days.

For specific classrooms, one confirmed positive means a return to virtual learning.

“Thank God we now have over 65,000 adults that have been vaccinated in our schools,” said de Blasio during a recent media briefing. “That’s a great step, but we really worked together with the unions to figure out the right approach going forward. And there’s a lot more we’ll be doing with the unions and with all the stakeholders in the school community to ensure additional supports for our kids.”

“We’ve seen the studies, consulted with medical experts, and based this change on guidance from the CDC,” added Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter. “And we’ve heard the voices of our school communities calling for increased stability around in-person learning as long as we can do so safely. This is exactly what this change represents. Fewer closures mean consistency and stability for students, staff, families, and more days in classrooms for New York City’s children.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said it was about time that the guidelines come back to some semblance normality.

“Now, with our increased knowledge about the spread of the virus, and as more teachers and other school staff have been vaccinated, our medical experts are convinced that the rule can be changed and still maintain safety,” Mulgrew said in a statement last Thursday. “This change will mean that while many classrooms will continue to close, the number of overall schools closed will decline, a repeated request of both teachers and parents.”