Cuomo warns inaction could make schools ‘super-spreaders’

Should coronavirus infection rates continue to rise, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said school districts should "strongly consider taking more aggressive action." (Photo by Karen Rubin).

By Samuele Petruccelli and Robert Pelaez

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday urged school districts grappling with waves of coronavirus infections to introduce tougher public-health measures for the upcoming academic year.

The Democratic governor’s call came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance recommending that all teachers, staff, students and visitors wear masks in schools regardless of whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

North Shore school districts have not yet detailed all the steps they will take to control the virus once in-person learning begins this fall. But Cuomo warned that schools could “become super-spreaders in September” without the right precautions.

“If the numbers continue to go up, the way they’re going up, I think school districts in those affected areas should strongly consider taking more aggressive action,” Cuomo said in a Wednesday press conference.

“Trepidation and politics that stops aggressive action feeds the virus,” Cuomo added.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county will be reviewing the updated federal guidance, which the CDC issued just about two months after saying fully vaccinated Americans could go maskless in most public spaces.

“I’m proud that Nassau County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the United States, and I’m confident we are ready to meet the challenges ahead,” Curran said in a statement Tuesday. “The health and safety of residents will continue to be our main priority.”

Local public school districts have not yet announced detailed plans for the upcoming school year amid shifting guidance from state and federal authorities.

In a statement to Blank Slate Media, Herricks Public Schools Superintendent Fino Celano said, “We are waiting on further guidance for the 2021-22 school year from the governor’s office and the State Education Department.”

The Great Neck School District, Manhasset School District, Port Washington School District, Roslyn School District, East Williston School District, Mineola School District, Sewanhaka Central High School District, New Hyde Park-Garden City Park School District and Floral Park-Bellerose School District all did not respond to requests for comment.

Some local colleges, however, have announced plans for vaccine mandates.

In Hempstead, Hofstra University will require all students learning on campus to be vaccinated before returning to school for the fall semester. The policy does not apply to those studying in entirely online programs or who are taking all classes remotely.

In an announcement last week, Adelphi University said it will follow suit, requiring all students living in Adelphi residence halls to be fully vaccinated. The rule also applies to Nassau Community College students living in the Adelphi residences.

Some 82 percent of adults 18 years or older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Curran said Wednesday. The county has the highest percentage of vaccinated adults among all “large counties” throughout the state, trailing Schenectady County by 0.1 percent, she said.

Throughout the North Shore, the 11042 ZIP code of New Hyde Park continued to have the lowest rate at 20.8 percent of people vaccinated for the second week in a row, according to state Health Department figures. That ZIP code, however, consists primarily of businesses south of the Northern State Parkway and along Marcus Avenue.

The next lowest vaccination rate throughout the North Shore areas is the 62.9 percent featured in the 11024 ZIP code of the Great Neck Peninsula, made up by the village of Kings Point. Another one of the North Shore’s lowest vaccination figures comes from the 11023 ZIP code of Great Neck with 62.9 percent of the population receiving inoculations. This ZIP code incorporates parts of the Villages of Great Neck and Saddle Rock, along with Great Neck Gardens and Harbor Hills.

The highest vaccination rate, of 84.3 percent, is in the Great Neck peninsula’s 11020 ZIP code, which consists primarily of the Village of Lake Success and University Gardens. Some of this ZIP code is also made up of Great Neck South Middle and High School, North Shore Hebrew Academy and the Fresh Meadow Country Club.

The statistics also show vaccination rates of 81.9 percent in Roslyn, 80.8 percent in Albertson, 79.8 percent in New Hyde Park’s 11040 zip code, 77.8 percent in Williston Park, 77.3 percent in Port Washington, 76.7 percent in Mineola, 76.2 percent in Great Neck’s 11021 zip code, 76.1 percent in Roslyn Heights, 72.9 percent in Manhasset, and 69.9 percent in Floral Park.

Cuomo also announced on Wednesday that all state employees must either receive full COVID-19 vaccinations or get regularly tested, saying the state needs dramatic action. There will be no testing option for patient-facing health-care workers — all must get vaccinated.

“That is a point of contact that could be a serious spreading event,” Cuomo said. “We want to make sure that those health-care workers are vaccinated. Period.”

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