CATSKILL — Greene County Public Health received $1.2 million to operate COVID-19 surveillance testing in schools in an effort to keep students in the classroom full-time.

Public Health Deputy Director Laura Churchill said at the Greene County Legislature’s Health Services Committee meeting the grant comes from the state Department of Health and is supported by the American Rescue Plan. It provides one year of funding for the six school districts, which will individually decide how to administer the funds in surveillance testing and point-of-care testing for COVID.

Churchill said 85% of the funding will go directly to the schools, and districts can decide how to use the funding — such as hiring a team of nurses to monitor the disease or choosing for the school nurse to keep track. The remaining 15% will be used to hire a grant administrator to oversee the distribution of funds.

Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said the grant is the first of two to be granted to the schools. Churchill said the money is intended to keep all schools in the county open five days a week, and data collected from the schools will be reported to the state Department of Health.

“We have the tools to be able to do that,” Churchill said.

Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, said it’s important that students return to school full-time, and Groden emphasized “the significance of being in school five days, removing the zooming, removing the telecommuting and getting kids back in school.”

“Schools are really important parts of our community,” Churchill said. “I mean, what can be learned from this past year? We vaccinated there. This is a really important piece of our community.”

Groden said the county did not apply for the grant but it was awarded by the state Department of Health. The funding continues through July 31, 2022.

The grant, as an amendment to the county budget, was approved by the Legislature’s Health Services Committee and will be voted on by the Legislature July 21.

In September 2020, families had the option to send their children to school every day or to engage in remote learning in the Coxsackie-Athens district, with about 80% percent choosing in-person learning.

Other districts at the time offered a hybrid approach, such as Catskill, Hunter-Tannersville, Greenville and the middle school and high school in Cairo. For many districts, masks and social distancing were required as well as daily health screenings.

In September, Hunter-Tannersville Superintendent Nate Jones said he was proud of the district’s handling of the pandemic.

“We look forward to the day we reach the summit — getting students back in the building 100%,” Jones said.

Catskill Superintendent Ronel Cook said in September the schools were using hallway directional signage, hand sanitizer machines, Plexiglass desk guards and temperature scanning machines to keep students safe.

Greene County schools saw an increase in COVID cases and switched to remote learning in January, including Catskill and Hunter-Tannersville.

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