The state Department of Health continues to investigate COVID-19 exposure in four virus clusters after officials traced multiple new infections to a student who recently traveled to Florida and attended a downstate graduation ceremony, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed an executive order over the weekend limiting virus paid sick leave eligibility for state employees.
The student started exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms shortly after attending Horace Greeley High School’s drive-in graduation ceremony June 20 at the Chappaqua train station in Westchester County and tested positive for the virus. Twelve other people who had contact with the student at the ceremony also tested positive and are self-isolating, according to the governor’s office.
Health officials and contact tracers have identified three other clusters of COVID-19 cases across New York at the Oswego Apple Factory, the Washington County/Vermont Slate Quarry and the Montgomery County Aluminum factory. The state reported 12 cases from the quarry, 82 apple factory employees infected with the virus of 179 tested and 74 COVID-19 cases from the aluminum factory, where 500 employees were tested. The downstate factory remains closed.
“This is actually good news — it means the contact-tracing system works,” Cuomo said during a pandemic briefing in Manhattan on Monday. “You find the positive, trace it back... find the common denominator and that’s how you stop the spread.”
The Horace Greeley student also participated in a nonschool-related Field Night event June 20, which was attended by the school’s juniors and seniors and students from surrounding school districts. Any person who attended the graduation ceremony, Field Night event or events associated with graduation, which continued into June 21, should self-quarantine until July 5.
The nation’s first COVID-19 “hot spot” appeared in Westchester County in March after one infected man attended a bar mitzvah celebration with more than 400 other people. The one case bloomed into a cluster of dozens of new positives that originated from that one event.
Cuomo recalled the incident Monday, reminding New Yorkers to wear face masks and socially distance from others because of how easily the virus can spread.
“As we are seeing in other states who reopened quickly, the pandemic is far from over and we need to stay vigilant,” Cuomo said. “We’re prepared to do the aggressive testing and contact tracing required to slow and ultimately control any potential clusters of new cases like the one in Westchester County.”
The state continues to move forward with its four-phase, gradual reopening plan. Western New York is cleared to start phase 4 Tuesday.
Officials are delaying resuming indoor dining in New York City after numerous complaints and issues with people complying with social-distancing or mask-wearing measures.
The state will announce a decision by Wednesday as the city prepares to enter phase 3 early next week, said Cuomo, who repeated his call on business owners and local governments to enforce the state’s COVID-19 orders.
The governor signed an executive order Wednesday requiring all New Yorkers or visitors from states with high COVID-19 positive testing rates, including Florida, to self-quarantine for 14 days. The order went into effect at midnight Thursday — five days after the downstate graduation.
The state Health Department released guidance June 14 requiring any school district that held a graduation ceremony to adhere to appropriate social-distancing guidelines, limiting the number of attendees, wearing face coverings and other precautions to curb the spread of the virus. The department is investigating if school officials followed state graduation guidelines amid the pandemic.
Cuomo also issued a new executive order Saturday making any New York employee who voluntarily travels to high-risk states after June 25 ineligible for COVID-19 paid sick leave. State employees will not receive the paid sick leave if they travel to a high-risk coronavirus state for any nonessential purpose, including vacation.
“If we are going to maintain the progress we’ve seen, we need everyone to take personal responsibility — that’s why I’m issuing an executive order that says any New York employee who voluntarily travels to a high-risk state will not be eligible for the COVID protections we created under paid sick leave,” the governor said Saturday.
State employees will forgo paid sick leave benefits from New York’s COVID-19 paid sick leave law if they engage in nonessential travel to any state that has a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a 10% test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. The provision does not apply if the employee travels for work or at their employer’s request.
The provision included in Saturday’s executive order mirrors the law’s existing provision that makes New Yorkers ineligible for paid sick leave after traveling to any country the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designates as a level-two or level-three travel health notice, according to the order.
The state Department of Health and Westchester County Health Department are working with Horace Greeley school officials to identify every person who attended the graduation ceremony or any subsequent gatherings where they may have been exposed to the virus. New York State Contact Tracing Program employees will contact the individuals to schedule a COVID-19 diagnostic test, according to the governor’s office.
New York reported its lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since March 18 on Monday at 853 patients statewide. Seven reported New Yorkers died from the virus Sunday, including six in hospitals and one in a nursing home, and five Saturday. The low daily death rate has continued to decline, bringing the state’s three-day fatality average down to eight — also the lowest since the pandemic first ravaged the state.
The state reported 391 new COVID-19 cases, or 0.84%, of the 46,428 tests conducted Sunday. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a positive COVID-19 testing rate of 2.2% or lower.
To schedule a COVID-19 test or for more information about the virus, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing