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Report Card: LI has second-highest number of COVID-19 cases for kids, school staff in state

Middle and high school students return to class

Middle and high school students return to class on the first day of school in a Long Island school district on Aug. 26. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Long Island reported the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases among students for any region in the state during the initial weeks of school, according to data released Monday by the state's COVID-19 Report Card system.

A total of 3,923 lab-verified cases were found among residents 5 to 17 years old on Long Island, the data showed, as might be expected given the large size of the Island's enrollment.

New York City reported the highest number of cases with 6,234 lab-verified cases among individuals 5 to 17 years old. The reports covered a period starting Sept. 1 and updated Monday.

Tonie McDonald, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents and Yiendhy Farrelly, president of the Suffolk County School School Superintendents Association, issued a joint statement describing the regional rise as "concerning", but adding that safety precautions would be maintained.

"School districts remain committed to providing a safe and healthy instructional environment for all students and staff to learn and grow," the two leaders stated.

"The science is telling everybody to get vaccinated — people should consult with their physicians," said Bob Dillon, superintendent of the regional Nassau BOCES educational system headquartered in Garden City.

Dillon voiced confidence that schools could maintain classes in school buildings, without widespread resort to remote at-home learning.

The state Department of Health, which maintains tracking systems for COVID-19 infections, keeps school records in two ways. One set is based on testing laboratory reports to the health department for residents ages 5 to 17, matched to the school districts where those residents live.

Another set of records is based on daily reports by districts themselves to the health department. Those reports began Sept. 13 and were updated Monday. The department cautioned that discrepancies may appear between the two data sets, due to time lags and other factors.

School-reported data shows a total 1,691 students in the Nassau-Suffolk region with positive test results, including 1,553 students enrolled in traditional public schools. A total of 382 teachers and other staff also had positive test results, with 355 of those in traditional public schools.

Long Island's overall seven-day positivity rate ticked slightly upward to 3.49% Friday, from 3.48% Thursday.

Data reported by testing labs and broken down by school districts was not initially released to the public, when schools began opening, mostly in early September. State health officials said that the tracking system was undergoing maintenance at the time, and a department spokesperson, Abigail Barker, added on Monday that the upgraded system simplified reporting for schools and provided daily updates.

Meanwhile, many individual districts have been informing parents of local outbreaks since the kickoff of the 2021-22 school year. A Newsday spot check of 20 K-12 districts in the Nassau-Suffolk region found that 15 provided some type of notification on their websites, either in the form of charts showing numbers of students and employees testing positive or letters regarding individual cases.

Results for individual districts varied widely, with large systems reporting the greatest number of outbreaks. A district-by-district chart compiled by Newsday and based on schools' reports to the state, showed 129 cases for students, teachers and staff in the William Floyd system, 70 in Sachem, 63 in Levittown and 51 in Massapequa.

Plainedge schools reported 17 students and one teacher testing positive, according to the state's tracking system.

Perry Fuchs, president of the district's teacher union, said most of his 330 members felt relatively safe due to safety precautions taken by schools there.

"We have masks in place, we have universal testing," Fuchs said. "Some members have expressed concerns — they have medical conditions that put them at higher risk — but literally just a few."

The Wantagh district reported 28 students and two teachers testing positive, according to the state.

Christina Haubeil, the mother of a 10th grader and two fifth graders in the district, said her confidence in schools attended by her children was reinforced by weekly reports received from the district since early September regarding health conditions there.

"I think they're very safe," Haubeil said, adding that her older son was vaccinated. "They take so many precautions in school. And the district keeps us up to date on the numbers."

Virtually all districts on the Island have provided in-school instruction five days a week, since classes began in late August, with remote learning limited to a few students with serious medical conditions. Social distancing in schools is generally held to three feet indoors, compared with six feet last year, but masks are universally required inside buildings.

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