Superintendent's Blog

On March 5, I participated on a conference call with other area superintendents and representatives from Governor Cuomo’s office and the NYS Department of Health NYSDoH).  The purpose of the conference call was to gain a better understanding of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease outbreak. The NYSDoH is the lead agency on matters pertaining to how school employees should or must respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. I am appreciative of the following NYS government officials who provided helpful guidance as part of our discussion: Dr. Elizabeth DuFort, New York State Department of Health, Division of Epidemiology; Adrian Mezzo, New York State Department of Education; Dana Caratenuto, Governor’s Office, Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs and Policy; Dan Fuller, Deputy Secretary for Education for Governor Cuomo; and, Mike Mastroianni, Governor Cuomo’s Office.

 Here are the salient points that the officials from Albany shared with the local superintendents:

  • There is currently no uniform guidance to determine how and when schools should close. The NYSDoH and the Governor’s Office agreed to work on a guidance document and make it available to superintendents as quickly as possible.
  • The Governor is aware of the challenges of providing online instruction and the 900/990 instructional hour requirement for schools. It is on their radar and they know that both need to be addressed.
  • The NYSDoH is not currently recommending avoidance of mass gatherings or local trips. This may change with time.
  • The NYSDoH recommends postponing international school trips to Level 2 and 3 countries, defined by the CDC, be postponed. There are five countries on the list. However, this list could grow over time. The link is here.
  • At the time of the call, there were 13 confirmed cases in New York State and they were in New York City and Westchester.
  • If someone is tested for COVID-19 coronavirus, the results take 6-8 hours after the sample is in the lab. The next step is confirmation which will be handled by the NYSDoH.
  • If there is a confirmed case in our district, the NYSDoH will quickly notify the district and work with us to determine the appropriate steps to take.
  • If we are uncertain about a possible case, we should contact the NYSDoH.
  • Many of those currently quarantined in New York State came in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. However, someone who is self-quarantined because they indirectly came in contact with someone who may have come in contact with a confirmed case is considered very low risk.  
  • Someone who lives in a home with a person who is being appropriately quarantined is not considered a contact and may still attend school. If the person quarantined becomes a confirmed case, the NYSDoH will contact the school district.
  • When a case is confirmed, disease detectives trace every minute of the person’s life to determine with whom they had contact. NYSDoH will follow-up with those individuals identified as contacts.
  • The NYSDoH monitors health care workers and they are monitored by their hospitals to determine whether quarantine is necessary. If a health worker is employed in a hospital that has treated a known case, the District does not need to be concerned about the health worker’s children who attend schools. Health care workers appropriately monitored by their employers are considered low-risk. 

The final takeaway from the phone conference is that the New York State Department of Health is the lead agency on this matter. Schools do not have the authority to quarantine and should be careful not to be more restrictive than the public health and medical experts. It is important that we all work together as a community to support each other and stay on top of this in order to minimize the negative impact of this major public health concern.

Above all, while it is important that we exercise an abundance of caution, it is even more important that we do not respond to the COVID-19 outbreak with an overabundance of fear. Please call our local health department about any rumors you may be hearing. If you are uncertain about a possible case and have questions, reach out to the Rockland County Health Department at 845-364-2512 or the New York State Office of Public Health at 518-473-0771. In addition, the NYSDoH has established a Novel Coronavirus information hotline for the public: 1-888-364-3065.

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