Education

School closure reflects rise in COVID cases here

With the announcement of a Shelter Island School staff member testing positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, Shelter Island School has joined a list of Long Island schools forced to close its doors, at least temporarily.

The autumn surge of COVID cases across the country has struck the Island, with eight cases being reported here since late September.

Last March, when COVID-19 numbers began to rise throughout the area, the school district shut the building and arranged for virtual learning. That included distributing iPads to students who didn’t already have them and arranging for teachers to reach out to students in groups and individually.

Since school opened for in-person learning in September, some teachers have said they hope they will not be forced to revert back to virtual classes, but they’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep their students and themselves safe.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which tracks COVID cases, reports that a total of 17 Islanders have contracted the illness. But Police Chief Jim Read, the town’s emergency management coordinator, has said that number could be higher.

The County Health Department, the chief has said, uses the home address given by those who test positive, which can be an Island address, or someone who is living here but has a home address somewhere else.

Many North Fork schools opened this autumn but then closed as cases were reported involving students or staff. Most of those closures were only for a day or two.

But in nearby Oysterponds District in Orient, the decision was announced by Superintendent Richard Malone that students who have been attending classes in person won’t return to school, but switch to virtual lessons until at least January.

Riverhead Town is currently seeing some of the highest positive test rates for COVID-19 in Suffolk County, according to County Executive Steve Bellone.

Last week, the current five-day test rate in Riverhead Town was at 5.6%, Mr. Bellone said, which is why the County Health Department is partnering with the Riverhead Central School District to conduct rapid tests to about 20% of the school population.

A similar testing program began in the Hampton Bays School District 10 days ago. The Hampton Bays hamlet is at 6.5% positive test rate and along with Riverhead is an area with the highest concern in the county.

Mr. Bellone emphasized that the elevated numbers are largely from community spread and not directly tied to the school districts. He said the school based testing initiative is designed to isolate positive patients, quarantine anyone potentially exposed and to keep schools open.

“Our goal today is to be proactive in our effort to get control of these numbers in the county,” he said.

All public Shelter Island Town Hall meetings, which went totally virtual in March, and then had allowed a limited number of people to attend in person, is now back to no in-person sessions.