Schools anticipate virus restrictions
The Garrison School switched to an all-virtual model on Wednesday (Nov. 18) in anticipation of the state ending in-person learning at schools in Putnam County because of rising COVID-19 infection rates. Haldane also said it was preparing to go all-virtual, if necessary.
Garrison Superintendent Carl Albano said on Saturday (Nov. 14) that he was anticipating the county would enter the state-designated “yellow precautionary zone” because its 7-day rolling average positivity rate was on track to exceed 3.5 percent for 10 consecutive days and its new daily cases to exceed 15 or more on a 7-day average as of Thursday (Nov. 19). [Update: Putnam’s rate was 5.3 percent on Nov. 19.]
Students have been attending Garrison, which has kindergarten through eighth grade, in-person, except for those whose parents or guardians opted to have them learn remotely.
“I am providing this advance notice so our students, families and teachers will have the opportunity to plan accordingly,” he told parents. “Tuesday will mark our 49th day of in-person school this year,” which he called a “remarkable accomplishment.”
To stay open, schools in yellow zones must test at least 20 percent of students and staff each week. Albano said the Garrison district does not have the capability to do that immediately, but that it may not matter because the county is also on track to enter the orange precautionary zone on Sunday (Nov. 22), when schools would have to go all-remote. In the “orange zone,” a county has a 7-day rolling average positivity rate of 4.5 percent for 10 days and, in red, 5.5 percent.
To reopen from yellow or orange, Putnam would need to have a decline in the 7-day average positivity plus a rate below 3 or 4 percent, respectively, for at least three straight days.
During a videoconference on Tuesday, Haldane Superintendent Philip Benante said that he, too, anticipated Putnam would be designated as yellow and that the district would have to go all-virtual while it does not yet have the capability to test.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, quite frankly, and we’re not there yet,” he said.
He added that “over the weekend, schools were informed that they can stop testing if our positivity rate within the school community is lower than the current 7-day positivity rate within the micro-cluster. But I don’t know if stopping testing is the best once you have the ability to test.”
At Haldane, students in the elementary and middle school attend class in person daily, except for those whose parents opted for all-virtual learning, while high school students are on a hybrid system, attending two or three days a week.
Asked if the state would close all schools in Putnam or only those in certain ZIP codes, Shanna Siegel of the Putnam County Department of Health, who was also on the Haldane videoconference, said the agency had been informed that the state planned to consider the county as a whole. “I don’t think our population density is enough to break it down further,” she said.
Later on Friday (Nov. 20), Albano sent an update to parents, saying the district had learned that the state is “using a more granular approach” and not designating entire counties as yellow or orange but specific areas.
Although Philipstown could potentially be excluded, he said the district still had 12 staff members on quarantine because of an earlier positive case and that the school would remain on a remote teaching model through the Thanksgiving break. He said he planned to reopen the school on Nov. 30 if the area was not designated as orange or red. If the area was yellow, he said, the district would attempt to test 20 percent of students and staff so it could again have students come to the building.
He noted that “until we are officially designated as a micro-cluster zone, NYSDOH [the state health department] will not provide the rapid antigen tests or allow our school nurse to be trained to administer the tests.”
In Dutchess County, the positivity rate 7-day rolling average must reach 3 percent for 10 consecutive days before the county would enter the yellow zone. It was 2.6 percent on Wednesday (Nov. 18). New York City schools went to all-virtual learning on Thursday (Nov. 19) after the city hit a 7-day rolling average of 3 percent positivity.