WATERTOWN — Despite continuous record-setting new amounts of COVID-19 cases, including many positives among staff and students over their winter break, schools across the tri-county region will continue with instruction as planned though Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo mulls implementing new testing regimens.
Gov. Cuomo suggested on Monday that the state may move to implement a requirement that schools regularly test students and staff for the coronavirus if their county has a positivity rate above 9%, but in the days since then, the state has seemed to be holding off.
“We’ve seen no guidance from the Department of Health or Department of Education indicating a change from that protocol, so we’re still operating from the presumption of ‘if you’re in a cluster zone that’s colored yellow, orange or red you do indeed test according to those protocols,” Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Stephen Todd told the Times.
Currently, schools only have to implement testing of the school population if it falls in a microcluster zone as designated by the state. While positivity rates and average new cases per capita in the tri-county area have been shattering previous records and increasing for much of the last two months no microclusters have been established locally.
Still, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Director of Communications and Marketing Rebekah Mott said districts are gathering supplies and making plans in case they do have to implement such plans down the road.
“All of our school districts in the BOCES for our programming are preparing for the possibility that will happen potentially that we may have to test students and staff in order to stay open,” Ms. Mott said. “School districts have sent out consent forms. We’ve been working very closely with St. Lawrence County Public Health to train school nurses and to basically but everything into place if that were to happen.”
One of the many new procedures in place during the pandemic is the mandatory reporting of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff through the state’s COVID-19 Report Card portal. Typically, superintendents must update that data daily, but most schools virtually stopped over the winter break. Both Mr. Todd and Ms. Mott said this was because the state’s guidance allowed schools to not make the reports on days the school isn’t on session.
According to the report card portal, a total of 99 students and school staff tested positive at St. Lawrence County school districts over the break. Every single district out of 17 in the county had at least one new case. In Jefferson County, 55 positive cases were discovered in students and school staff between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5. A total of 26 were discovered in Lewis County students and school staff over the same period.