A positive COVID-19 test resulted in the closure of John Jay High School for one day this week and led to 150 individuals being quarantined. A second positive test for a member of the JJHS community later in the week did not have any such effects.

The community learned of the first case in an email from Superintendent Andrew Selesnick on Sunday evening. He said the district had just learned that an individual who was last at JJHS Tuesday, Oct. 20, was informed on Sunday of a positive test result. “By law, we must maintain this persons confidentiality, which prevents us from identifying the individual and his/her reason for being in the school,” Mr. Selesnick said.

As a result, the school was closed Monday, Oct. 26, with all students expected to log in for remote learning. The reason for the closure, Mr. Selesnick explained, was so contact tracing could take place to identify any students, faculty or staff who may have been exposed. 

The contact tracing began Monday morning and calls were made that evening to everyone the Westchester County Department of Health determined had to quarantine for 14 days from the last exposure date. On Wednesday, Mr. Selesnick reported that as a result of that case, “close to 150 members of the JJHS community are now in quarantine.” The high school opened as usual for cohort A students on Tuesday, Oct. 27, the day following the closure. 

Monday’s closure was the first time this semester one of the two local school districts ordered a shutdown in response to a report of a newly confirmed case of COVID-19.  

In a special notice sent to BCSD families on Sept. 24, Superintendent Joel Adelberg explained the district had just learned of an individual at Fox Lane High School who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 21. Students and staff exposed to the infected individual were mandated to quarantine for 14 days from their last exposure date of Sept.16. However, Fox Lane did not close.

The Record-Review asked Mr. Selesnick why KLSD chose to close school following confirmation of a positive virus case, in contrast to the Bedford Central School District, which opted to remain open under similar circumstances.

Mr. Selesnick replied, “Its all a matter of timing as to whether schools need to close or not. Every school district is required to gather information to provide to the (Department of Health) regarding who may have had contact with the positive individual. If a district learns on Friday afternoon that a positive individual was in the building earlier in the week, then it might be possible over the weekend to determine all the potential contacts, notify all those people that they must quarantine, and be ready to open on Monday. But if the information arrives in the middle of the week or on a Sunday night, it’s likely impossible to have school open the next day.” 

The goal, said Mr. Selesnick, is to keep everyone as safe as possible, and be as certain as possible that every potential contact has been identified.

In another message to the school community Wednesday, Mr. Selesnick said, “Last night we learned of another individual in the JJHS community who yesterday tested positive for COVID-19. We were in communication early this morning with the Westchester County Department of Health and our Districts Medical Director. The individual is now quarantining. Beyond that, I’m happy to report, due to different circumstances, this situation will not have any additional impact on our school community.”

Mr. Selesnick reassured the community that on Thursday, Oct. 29, JJHS and all other schools would be open for all students in cohort B and those who attend four days per week. He reminded families to “complete the health screener every day that your child is expected in school (even if your child is staying home that day). The screener information helps us keep everyone as safe as possible.”

On Thursday, Oct. 29, the district reported two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school community. However, it said should would remain open on Friday, Oct. 30. The district said an additional 30 individuals would need to quarantine as a result of the two new cases, who were said to have "relatively limited contact with others" in the school community. 

In anticipation of questions about “how two seemingly similar situations can have such different outcomes,” Mr. Selesnick directed parents to a set of FAQs on the district website, in which he urged reaching out to the school principal or school nurse as soon as a student receives positive test results. While it is not necessary to alert the school immediately if a family member living in the same home as the student tests positive for COVID-19, any student living in that house would then need to answer “yes” on the daily health screener to the question about contact with a COVID positive individual and, as a result, would need to stay home.

The FAQs further explain that the Westchester County Department of Health, in conjunction with the state DOH, initiates a contact tracing protocol that looks back two days prior to the time the individual developed symptoms or, if asymptomatic, two days prior to the day of the positive test. The document states, “We are then asked to develop a list of all those people who may have had contact through school or a school activity with the positive individual starting from that two-day window and moving forward to the present day. We share that information with the WCDOH.” But, if the individual has not been in school and has not participated in any school activities since the start of the look-back period, there would be no information to share with the WCDOH. “As a result, the timing of testing and symptoms relative to when an individual was last in school can result in very different impacts on our school community.”

The New York State COVID-19 Report Card web page, schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov, shows a total of five lab-reported positives in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District based on residential address — four students and one staff member. However, only one is an on-site student; that was the first case at JJHS. The second JJHS student is shown as off-site. Also shown as off-site are two Increase Miller Elementary School students and one staff member. They have not been mentioned by the district.

 

Mask mandate

Also, on Wednesday, Oct. 28, Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a request from Westchester County Executive George Latimer for a mask mandate in Westchester County’s school districts. “Throughout the pandemic, we have experienced first-hand just how much mask wearing, when coupled with social distancing, can help curtail the spread of COVID-19,” said Mr. Latimer. “The County consulted with school superintendents across Westchester, and received solid support for this proposal. All public, private, parochial and charter school students, along with their educators and staff, will now be required to wear a mask at all times, with the exception of during designated breaks, when eating, during heavy physical exertion, or when a teacher allows them to be taken off.”

KLSD already requires all students and staff to wear face coverings at all times while on school buses and in schools. 

Jeff Morris is a staff reporter at The Record-Review where he covers the Town of Bedford and the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. Prior to joining the paper he was a reporter and columnist for the Lewisboro Ledger and a business magazine editor.

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