More students test positive, areas with 4% infection rate will be deemed ‘red zones’: Cuomo

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More than 140 students had tested positive for the coronavirus since school began in September, according to state figures. (Chart by Robert Pelaez)

While many in New York City’s school system have been closely monitoring the rate of coronavirus infection, with schools required to close if it reaches 3 percent, that may not mean Long Island school districts should brace for the same mandate.

Though temporary closures for cleaning, disinfecting and contact tracing have taken place in Long Island school districts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said schools may actually be safer for children, and acknowledged the difficulties closing them would cause throughout the state.

“So we’ve made sure that it was a collective dialogue and what I’m trying to say to the parents and to the teachers now is, I know we said 3 percent,” Cuomo said Monday. “I know that was the rule. But we did that months ago and we’ve learned more since then and we’re more sophisticated and we have more testing.”

Cuomo said if a region hits a 4 percent rate of infection, it is classified as a “red zone” and the state will come in and “close everything down.” But if a school district conducts tests and remains “below a certain number,” it will be permitted to reopen.

“I think that makes sense,” Cuomo said. “But the parents and the teachers have to come because they are much more reluctant than you are suggesting. It’s not that everybody gets it. You have to educate them.”

As of Monday, Nassau County’s rate of infection was 3.4 percent, according to County Executive Laura Curran.

As of Tuesday, 144 students in public school districts across the North Shore had tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the school year, according to state Health Department figures.

By comparison, the total for the North Shore a week ago was 108. 

Public school districts that were analyzed included the Port Washington school district, Roslyn school district, Sewanhaka Central High School District, Mineola school district, East Williston school district, Floral Park-Bellerose school district, Manhasset school district, New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school district, Herricks school district, North Shore school district and the Great Neck school district.

The three school districts with the most cases among students are Port Washington with 28, Great Neck with 26, and Sewanhaka with 25. It was the second consecutive week that Port Washington had the most cases among students. The district also had five staff members test positive for the virus since the beginning of the school year. This was tied with Great Neck for the most in the area.

Port Washington Superintendent Michael Hynes released a video on his social media platforms in response to the heightened amount of coronavirus cases the school district has seen inside and out of the classroom.

“As many of us know, there is a significant increase in COVID-positive cases in our area and that is causing many of us to take notice and wonder why this is happening,” Hynes said. “I believe our students and staff are the safest when they’re within our schools. Over the past several weeks I have implored our school community to make sure our students do not attend large gatherings, to make sure they are masked if they go out, to make sure they are socially distanced, and to not attend sleepovers.”

Despite the increase in numbers, Hynes said he is confident that measures that have been taken in the district’s schools have been effective in combating the spread of the virus and lauded students and staff members for their efforts.

“I can assure you, everything we are doing within our schools is extremely effective,” he said. “Our staff and students are doing such a remarkable job and I’m so proud of their hard work and diligence.”

Great Neck Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said it will take a joint effort among students, parents, teachers and staff members to avoid potentially closing schools in the future.

“So far, our district has been able to avoid school closures – which is a great sign that our health procedures and prevention policies are working,” Prendergast said in a letter. “But continued success requires everyone’s cooperation in school and, equally as important, outside of school. With the holiday season approaching and colder weather on the way, please do your part by following all health and safety guidelines.”

In Sewanhaka, 16 of the 25 total positive student cases were on-site, while the rest were off-site, according to state figures.

The North Shore school district, with 20, and the Roslyn and Mineola school districts, with 16 and 14 respectively, were the only other districts with more than 10 confirmed cases from students and staff members. The remaining school districts combined for 30 total confirmed cases of the virus, according to state figures.

Among the districts with 10 or fewer cases, Floral Park-Bellerose had one, the East Williston and New Hyde Park-Garden City school districts had six, Manhasset had eight and Herricks had nine. 

For more information on how school districts and their schools are faring with the coronavirus, visit https://schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov/#/home.

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