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As schools reopen amid COVID spike, districts to survey parents on at-home testing

It’s in-person schooling on Shelter Island today, Monday, Jan. 3.

But in line with a notice from Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), School District officials sent letters to parents on Friday informing them they could pick up home test kits for their children.

There were 140 kits distributed at the school Sunday. The families who had not yet responded were surveyed about picking up test kits after school Monday, with most responding they intended to do so, according to Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D.

The governor said on Friday that rising hospitalizations are “very concerning.” In Suffolk, the number of COVID patients in hospitals surpassed 700 on Dec. 31. Hospitalizations in the county increased by 346% from Dec. 1 to the end of the month.

Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport also suspended visitation as of Dec. 28. Some exceptions are allowed, such as for pediatric patients or imminent end-of-life situations.

From the time the COVID pandemic became a factor in 2020, the Shelter Island Board of Education approved money for a top-of-the-line air filtration system for the building and additional sinks were provided for frequent hand washing.

Masks have been required by all students, staff and visitors to the building from the outset of the pandemic.

The district is among the few on Long Island that have been able to offer in-school classes practically throughout the pandemic. On a few occasions, classes were handled virtually as the school officials provided their premises for inoculations of Islanders.

Students exposed to COVID-19 at school can “test to stay” as part of an updated guidance from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Further details are expected from the county and more information on “test to stay” can be found from the State Department of Health — health.ny.gov/.

Ms. Hochul said Friday, “In the case where one of the classmates tests positive, everybody can take a test kit home in their backpack, come back the next day if they have a negative test, and get tested again in a couple of days. This is how we believe listening to the experts is the safest way to keep children in school.”

The state ordered more than 37 million tests and 5.28 million arrived by the end of last week for schools. More than 850,000 were delivered to Long Island as of Dec. 31. An additional 6 million tests were expected to arrive for schools by today, Monday.

Kathryn Garcia, the director of state operations said, “We have ongoing calls with counties and with the local school boards, the superintendents and the principals, to make sure that they have what they need to keep kids in school because we, as the governor said, know that it’s so critical  for all of our young people.”

Suffolk County recorded a whopping 13,350 new cases on Dec. 31 for a positivity rate of 27.5%. The number of cases that day nearly equaled the total from all of November and was more than double the previous single-day record set one day earlier.

Nearly 77,000 cases were recorded in Suffolk in December — by far the highest single month total since testing became widely available.

“We are being hit very hard without a doubt, but this is also a national phenomenon, a global phenomenon in fact,” Ms. Hochul said. “And also we are testing more. That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing high numbers, and that is a good thing.”

As part of the guidance to keep schools open, the governor on Friday announced a “Winter Surge Plan 2.0,” which includes extending the current “mask-or-vax” requirement an additional two weeks through the end of the month. The governor had previously said the mandate would be in effect through Jan. 15.

The governor said she’d be open to reassessing at that time and is “hoping that the picture is much more positive in February. But again, we just don’t have that information right now but this is another part of our 2.0 plan.” 

The plan also calls for added hospital support through distribution of antiviral treatments in conjunction with the federal government. Dr. Mary Bassett, the state health commissioner, said the FDA recently gave an emergency approval to oral antiviral drugs, one called Paxlovid and the other Molnupiravir.

“So this is a huge advance and will give us a way of keeping people out of hospitals who are at risk for hospitalization and are infected,” Dr. Bassett said. “But we need much larger amounts than we have received. The supply is dispensed by the federal government, and we’ve gotten our allocation of Paxlovid, 3,180 doses, which are being distributed around the state.”

The state will also require nursing homes to provide a plan to increase vaccination and booster rates among residents. Part of the focus will be on increasing vaccinations for New Yorkers in the 5-11 age group and to provide booster shots to children ages 12-15 when the Pfizer shot receives approval.