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Uniondale schools in close contact with health officials after coronavirus diagnosis

Doctors discussed precautionary measures that can be taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Credit: Newsday / Cecilia Dowd, Chris Ware; Howard Schnapp

Uniondale school officials assured parents and residents that they had been in close contact with health officials and would continue with heightened building cleaning after a local man tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement posted on the school district website signed by Superintendent William K. Lloyd and dated Thursday, school officials said that the diagnosis of the man being treated at NYU Winthrop Hospital for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, would continue to be monitored but "we have been told that at the current time, there is no reason to take any additional precautionary or preventive measures than those we already have in place."

On Thursday, state officials reported that a 42-year-old Nassau County man tested positive for the virus and was one of four hospitalized patients statewide, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. On Friday, the governor said Nassau had three new COVID-19 cases — all women connected to the man who is hospitalized at Winthrop. 

An NYU Winthrop Hospital spokeswoman said the man, who according to a source lives in Uniondale, was being treated at its Mineola facility. State officials said the man was not in intensive care and his condition had improved.

It's not clear if the man has a connection to the Uniondale school district.

The school district, which enrolls about 7,000 students, said it would continue with heightened building cleaning and sanitizing procedures and recommended that all students, faculty, staff and community members follow the preventive guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Health Department. 

Friday, organizers of the Long Island String Festival to be held at Uniondale High School canceled this weekend's event, which typically draws young musicians from throughout the Island. The group posted a notice on its website that the decision was made after consulting with the New York State Department of Health.

"They are concerned about the children of course, but they are most concerned about having a large gathering of adults that might include 'vulnerable populations,' such as elderly people, people with unknown medical histories, people who are immunocompromised, and people with unknown travel histories," wrote Eric Kay, president of the Long Island String Festival Association.

The festival was scheduled to start with rehearsals Friday night and performances through the weekend.

State Education Department officials said Friday that they were working with the state Department of Health to develop updated guidance for schools reflecting the latest CDC recommendations and they would "continue to update this guidance as the situation warrants," according to Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the department.

Last week, the Uniondale district, like many on Long Island, issued a letter to parents and residents sharing the preventive guidelines from the CDC, including washing your hands for 20 seconds and not touching your face. Schools in both Nassau and Suffolk counties have been adding hand sanitizer stations to schools, consulting with the local health officials as well as the CDC, and stepping up cleaning of surfaces frequently touched by students and staff.

On the Massapequa school district website, Superintendent Lucille F. Iconis noted earlier this week that local health officials had assured superintendents that there was no reason for any change or cancellation of school activities. She said the district was taking extra steps to keep the buildings clean, including adding hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the system. 

"Extra attention and more frequent cleaning of doorknobs, handrails, lavatories, hard surfaces, and any other high traffic areas will diligently occur throughout each day," she said. "We all must be proactive in taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of illness."

In Manhasset, schools Superintendent Vincent Butera notified parents earlier this week that the district custodial staff had been cleaning frequently touched surfaces on a daily basis and had been using large disinfecting machines to clean classrooms and large spaces. Students and staff have been encouraged to wash their hands throughout the day.

The district also has a pandemic plan that is part of its schoolwide safety plan and is prepared to activate it if so directed by the Nassau County Department of Health, Butera said.

Some schools have been ordered closed in areas hard hit by the virus in the United States and worldwide. Should that happen on Long Island, educators say attempting to educate students remotely would come with many challenges.

“There has to be a tremendous amount of groundwork done even before this can be considered,” said Robert Dillon, superintendent of Nassau BOCES. “Who has what capacity? Who has the hardware? … Districts that are wealthy will have a greater opportunity than those who don’t have that wealth.”

He is meeting with area superintendents this coming week to discuss virtual learning possibilities and other issues related to the coronavirus, Dillon said.

“We hope we don’t get to this point, but we do what we do best and that is plan and prepare for whatever is down the road,” he said. 

Huntington school district officials notified parents Friday that they were required to notify the Suffolk County Department of Health about any staff or students returning from the affected countries of Japan, China, Italy, South Korea and Iran.

Health officials planned to contact the reported student’s family or staff within 24 hours to begin a 14-day self-quarantine. The quarantine process does not apply to any other family members.

The district advised parents pay attention to health advisories before spring break travels.

With John Asbury 

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