Schools brace for holiday surge

Scott M. Ellis Elementary School was closed until November, after three students and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media/File

As Thanksgiving break approaches for local students, districts are urging families to celebrate safely amid new COVID-19 cases.

Cairo-Durham Central School District reported its first COVID-19 case on Sunday. The high school student has not attended school in person since Nov. 9, Superintendent Michael Wetherbee wrote in a letter to parents.

“Please be assured that we are continuing to enforce all health and safety protocols within our school buildings, including heightened cleaning measures,” Wetherbee said. “At this time, in-person instruction will continue as scheduled.”

The district will return to in-person instruction after the break, Wetherbee said.

“I would just encourage families to continue to take the necessary precautions and follow all CDC and New York state guidelines to ensure public safety,” he said.

The Catskill Central School District reported its second case, a high school student, on Nov. 8.

The student had not been on campus for more than two weeks, so the school did not alter its learning plan.

“Since the student has not physically attended school for 16 days, the Greene County Department of Public Health cleared us to open and continue with hybrid in-person instruction for tomorrow, Monday, Nov. 9, as planned,” Superintendent Ronel Cook said in a letter to parents.

The district had its first positive case Oct. 10, an elementary school employee, which delayed the district’s transition to hybrid learning by two days.

Catskill will resume hybrid learning after Thanksgiving break, Cook said, adding families were sent a reminder about the state’s travel advisory.

Hunter-Tannersville Central School had a junior high student test positive Oct. 29. The district did not change its learning plans following the case, but all students will learn remotely Nov. 30 through Dec. 4, after the Thanksgiving break.

“Our main reason for going remote after Thanksgiving is to mitigate the virus’ spread after a typically highly traveled family holiday,” Superintendent Nate Jones said. “The board of education and I believe that it is best to be proactive and reduce the number of people in the building. Also, this short window of remote learning will best prepare Hunter-Tannersville if we find ourselves being closed for a longer period of time. We believe it is appropriate to go full remote for a short period of time, reduce the spread and iron out potential technology glitches that we are not aware of.”

The district will be providing free breakfast and lunch to students during the remote learning week, which can be picked up from the elementary school at a to-be-determined pick-up date, Jones said.

Greenville Central School District has reported a total of five cases; a middle-school teacher on Oct. 2; a fifth-grade student Oct. 19, which was linked to the outbreak at Greene Correctional Facility; an elementary staff member and additional elementary student on Oct. 19; and a third elementary student, who had been learning remotely, on Oct. 21.

Sixth-grade students learned remotely for two weeks following the middle-school teacher case, and Scott M. Ellis Elementary closed from Oct. 19 through Nov. 2.

Greenville schools will not be going remote following Thanksgiving break, Superintendent Tammy Sutherland said, adding that a reminder on the state’s travel advisory was distributed to families.

Coxsackie-Athens has not reported any positive cases to date. The district does not plan to go remote following the holiday, Superintendent Randall Squier said.

“Coxsackie-Athens plans to follow our regular schedule,” Squier said. “We ask that families stay home and avoid large gatherings. We ask that all families continue to follow all safety guidelines outside of school hours including proper use of face coverings, social distancing, proper hand hygiene, avoiding gatherings and travel to states with high positivity rates.”

Windham-Ashland-Jewett Superintendent John Wiktorko could not be reached for comment.

New COVID-19 cases are being reported at school districts in Columbia County.

On Monday the Taconic Hills school district announced a bus driver had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Germantown Central School District had a staff member test positive Tuesday morning and the Hudson City School District announced that two fully remote students had tested positive.

“I think that people are becoming much more concerned about COVID, given the media attention given to it and the increasing incident rate,” Jack Mabb, director of the Columbia County Department of Health, said. “New York state is still, the last I heard, the third from the bottom as far as incident rate. We’re doing really well.”

None of the new cases have shut the schools down, Mabb said. About seven people had to be quarantined in connection with the bus driver case at Taconic Hills, Mabb added.

Taconic Hills also has a teacher who has had to quarantine because their child had tested positive, Mabb said.

The positive staff member in the Germantown Central School District had not been in the school since Nov. 6, according to a letter sent to district families.

The two positive remote students in the Hudson City School District had not had contact with students or staff.

“We ask that all school families, students and staff members continue following all safety guidelines outside of school hours, including wearing masks, social distancing, practicing good hygiene and limiting group gatherings,” said Taconic Hills Superintendent Neil L. Howard in a letter to district families.

Each of the affected school districts is working with the Department of Health to conduct contact tracing and inform anyone who was potentially exposed to a positive individual and inform them if they need to quarantine and get tested.

Schools cannot give out identifying information about staff or students who have tested positive due to privacy laws.

Since the beginning of the school year, the Chatham Central School District has reported one off-site staff member had tested positive for COVID, according to the state’s COVID Report Card site. The Germantown Central School District has reported two off-site elementary-age students had tested positive for COVID since September.

The Hudson City School district has reported one positive on-site student, three positive students off-site and two staff members working on-site had tested positive since the start of the academic year.

Ichabod Crane Central School District has reported a total of eight on-site students and one on-site staff member who have tested positive.

New Lebanon Central School District has reported one off-site staff member had tested positive. The school district announced Saturday there had been a positive case within the district’s transportation department. About 25 people in the district have been tested and quarantined. The school district announced it would be switching to entirely remote learning until Nov. 30, after the Thanksgiving break, because of the number of students and transportation department staff who have had to quarantine.

The Taconic Hills Central School District has reported one on-site student and one on-site staff member who had tested positive, according to the state COVID Report Card.

In total, Columbia County has had 851 positive COVID cases. There are 102 active cases in the county, 25 of which are currently hospitalized, with four in the intensive care unit.

The county currently has 130 people under a mandatory quarantine because of COVID-19.

On Monday afternoon the Columbia County Department of Health announced that another county resident had died at Ghent Assisted Living as a result of the coronavirus. This was the 44th COVID-related death the county has had since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since Oct. 14, the county has had seven COVID-related deaths, all of which occurred at Ghent Assisted Living. Prior to those cases the county had not had a COVID-related death since June 9.

Columbia County will be holding a COVID-testing clinic Dec. 1 at the John L. Edwards Primary School in Hudson from 9-11 a.m. Preregistration is not necessary but masks and a photo ID are. The clinic is limited to 100 tests. At the most recent testing clinic several people were lined up before testing began, Mabb said.

The department is also beginning to study an antigen test, which can give COVID results more quickly, Mabb added. The county received the kit from New York state.

“This is going to be available to the general public, but also to help out in schools, if they get an outbreak and want to do a testing of students,” Mabb said.

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