This week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced New York’s Winter COVID-19 Plan, which places new demands on schools located in hotspots to conduct weekly testing on a portion of their students, faculty and staff. The plan was formulated with the goal of keeping K-8 and special education schools open as long as it can be done safely.

Under this mandate, schools located in orange and red micro-cluster zones will be required to conduct weekly testing.

Schools in orange zones will be required to test 20% of in-person students, faculty and staff over the course of a month. Schools in red zones will be required to test 30% of in-person students, faculty and staff over the course of a month.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, the requirements were formulated “in consultation with global public health experts, local governments and other stakeholders to ensure that the plan builds off the lessons learned during the past nine months to anticipate and prepare for an expected increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations over the holiday season.”

This week Superintendent Andrew Selesnick of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District and Superintendent Joel Adelberg of the Bedford Central School District confirmed they were coordinating with County Executive George Latimer, Westchester County Department of Health, and district physician Dr. Louis Corsaro regarding preparations for testing. As cases continue to crop up in both school districts and the region at large, it has become clear that a large swath of Westchester County could soon be designated an orange or red zone.

According to the state definitions, a region is designated an orange zone if the geographic area has a seven-day rolling average positivity above 3% for 10 days and 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average. The target metric for being designated a red micro-cluster zone is a seven-day rolling average positivity above 4% for 10 days and 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average.

As of press time, the state’s COVID-19 School Report Card reported 74 total positive cases among students, teachers and staff in BCSD, and 36 total positive cases among students, teachers and staff in KLSD.

As cases continue to rise, district leaders anticipate it’s only a matter of time before their populations are required to submit to testing.

In a communication sent to the KLSD community Nov. 30, Mr. Selesnick shared “that reduced staffing (due to quarantining) is increasingly challenging our ability to maintain the current hybrid model. Know that we are doing all we can to stay safely open.”

Within a matter of days, the situation worsened. On Wednesday, Dec 2, the district disclosed that another individual connected to the John Jay Middle School community tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in approximately 50 additional people needing to quarantine. Due to the number of JJMS staff subsequently required to quarantine, all eighth-grade students (regardless of cohort or typical days of attendance) were required to learn remotely for the remainder of the week.

A similar situation also occurred in BCSD, where Mr. Adelberg reported Wednesday that a positive case among the Fox Lane Middle School staff would result in the “third quarantine” for some students and faculty. The case impacted the majority of sixth grade cohort “6E” and due to the number of teachers in quarantine, resulted in all 6E students, hybrid one and two, to learn remotely from home for the rest of the week.

As cases continue to rise and even with these disruptions, officials in both districts said they intend to meet the benchmarks required by the governor’s Winter Plan and are committed to keeping schools open for in-person learning as long as possible.

In preparation for meeting the mandatory new state school testing mandates, the two districts plan to reach out to school community members with details on how parents can provide consent for their children to be tested.

As reported last week in The Record-Review, Bedford Central officials asked families to help advocate on its behalf for COVID-19 testing resources and funding that would be necessary in the event a BCSD school or the entire district becomes designated a hotspot.

The communication about testing resources followed a Nov. 20 email that first shared information regarding the possibility that New York state will mandate school-based COVID-19 testing if the geographic area is designated one of the color-coded focus zones.

To monitor the reported cases in your school district, visit schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov.

Jackie covers town government, business, culture, and community happenings in Pound Ridge, as well as the Bedford Central School District. You can send tips and dog photos to her at jroman@record-review.com

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