A recommendation on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that coronavirus-exposed kids can stay in school if tested got mixed reactions on Long Island, where the region’s positivity rate surpassed 8% in the latest figures.

Instead of requiring mandatory quarantine for an infected peer’s unvaccinated classmates, the recommendation would be to implement a "test-to-stay" program. Under test-to-stay, classmates exposed to COVID-19, in kindergarten through 12th grade, can remain in school based on at least two negative test results in the week following exposure.

"Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.

Remote schooling, which students across Long Island and the nation were forced to do for much of 2020 and beyond during the worst of the pandemic, is widely considered to have been inferior to in-person learning, educationally and socially, and it worsened inequities, too.

Phyllis Harrington, the superintendent in Oceanside and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said in a statement that the council supports the CDC's recommendation.

"We have been advocating for this at the county levels as we have watched the number of quarantines grow," she said. "As superintendents, we know that students are best served in school with direct contact with their teachers and classmates. The current quarantine policies have caused interrupted learning for students and a great sense of instability for families."

At Oceanside's school board meeting on Wednesday, Harrington said the district had seen 43 cases since Dec. 11 and has 224 children quarantined.

Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Department of Health issued a memo to schools on testing protocols that said the department was not adopting test-to-stay or testing out of quarantine as of now, according to department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern.

Her counterpart in Nassau, Mary Ellen Laurain, didn’t return a message.

Dr. Theresa Fiorito, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island, said the recommendation strikes a good balance between keeping children in classrooms and protecting them from infection with the coronavirus.

"In-person learning is what’s best for kids," she said. "As long as we don’t run out of tests, and as long as we have people who can run them and run them accurately, it could work. But you have to make sure masks are being used at all times and correctly, because they do work, and you have to make sure that parents are closely monitoring kids for symptoms — two very big ifs."

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said test-to-stay works only if schools ensure that everyone in school buildings is masked.

"That will clearly protect their students, the teachers and the staff," she said.

"I want to caution everybody: If all the children are masked in schools like they are on Long Island, that’s not where the transmission is occurring," Nachman added. "It’s really occurring out of school buildings. It’s really occurring in people’s homes, and at parties and at get-togethers where they’re not masking."

The Illinois and California districts that the CDC cited in its new recommendation as examples of how a test-to-stay approach could be successful both required that the infected student and the close contact had "to be correctly and consistently masked during the entire exposure" for the close contact to participate in test-to-stay.

Nachman also emphasized how the CDC is "very clear they’re not saying, ‘this is better’ or ‘that’s worse,’ " a reference to how the agency is saying test-to-stay and 10-day quarantines are equally good approaches.

With the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, the delta variant still dominant, and the spread of the seasonal flu, "Right now there has to be a sense of caution in schools," Nachman said. "The good news is, we’re going to have a winter break and it will be up to the schools to assess what to do after winter break."

Under the CDC's "test-to-stay" recommendation, classmates exposed to COVID-19, in kindergarten...

Under the CDC's "test-to-stay" recommendation, classmates exposed to COVID-19, in kindergarten through 12th grade, would remain in school based on at least two negative results in the week following exposure. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Malverne schools, said in a phone interview that the district lacks the resources to implement such testing. The district currently provides testing once a week for students and the community. Testing students on a daily basis would be extremely challenging, she said.

"The implication is we would provide the tests and the resources behind it, and that is very difficult for a district like ours," said Lewis, whose district enrolls about 1,700 students.

She added that access to testing has become difficult as well. "If I were to try and find a test right now, it is almost impossible," she said.

Lewis said there were 26 students in quarantine from the district's middle school.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, asked on CNN on Friday afternoon about the CDC's recommendation, said the state had surveyed school districts about a month and a half ago about test-to-stay.

"We’ve been providing the resources to make that happen, and also saying we want to keep kids in school," she said.

She added: "The majority of them have been providing tests in schools."

It wasn’t clear whether she meant test-to-stay or testing in general.

A spokesman for Hochul, Avi Small, did not immediately respond to a message seeking clarity.

Separately, Hochul told MSNBC that she would push to mandate vaccines for all schoolchildren who are eligible for the shots.

"We’ll get that done," she said, once the state legislature reconvenes in January.

In the latest figures released by Hochul’s office, the positivity rate was 8.19% on Thursday, averaged over the prior seven days. The rate was 7.53% on Wednesday and 7.12% on Thursday.

Statewide, the latest seven-day average for Thursday was 5.73%. The statewide rate, too, has been climbing; it was 4.83% on Tuesday. Long Island’s positivity rate was the state’s second-highest in the seven-day average ending Thursday; the highest was for Western New York, with 9.24%; the lowest is New York City, at 4.39%.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC radio that he would not re-close schools, or businesses, once again, as he had in March 2020.

"No, no, no. What did I learn? Don't do that. That's what I learned. First of all, there's this truism: Never fight yesterday's war. This is not March of 2020," he said.

Meanwhile, early Friday evening, the Rockettes announced on Twitter the cancellation of the remainder of the Christmas Spectacular show this season, citing "increasing challenges from the pandemic." Tickets would be refunded, the tweet said.

What to know

Under a "test-to-stay" program, unvaccinated classmates of an infected student would no longer need to quarantine if exposed.

If those classmates have been masked, they can stay in class, based on two negative COVID-19 tests within a week of exposure.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state surveyed districts across New York about a month and a half ago about test-to-stay.

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