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Cuomo: Allowing schools in hot spots to reopen, under COVID-19 testing protocol

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday that the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday that the state will allow schools to reopen in "red" and "orange" zones seeing coronavirus spikes, but they will need to abide by a new testing protocol. Credit: Office of the Governor

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones, Joie Tyrrell and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Jones.

Schools located in red and orange zones with high levels of COVID-19 infection will be able to reopen as early as Monday as long as they follow strict testing protocols and see their case numbers come down to acceptable levels, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.

New York has imposed restrictions on those "hot spots" or "microclusters" in Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland and Orange counties to try to bring down high levels of infection and avoid more spread outside them.

But Cuomo said, during a telephonic briefing with reporters, that public and parochial schools and yeshivas "want to be open" and his administration worked with administrators to find a way forward.

"We have an agreement with them on a protocol that I think keeps people safe and allows children to be educated" in those zones, Cuomo said.

Before the schools reopen, all students, teachers and staff must be tested for the virus, and only those testing negative will be allowed to return to the buildings.

After that, a minimum of 25% of the schools' population will need to be tested weekly.

If it is a smaller school, and nine or more people test positive, it must close again, Cuomo aides said. If it is a larger school, testing 300 or more people a week, the positivity level must be 2% or lower in New York City, and 3% or lower elsewhere, to remain open.

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If the schools' numbers drop enough to fall into the "yellow zone," they have to test at least 20% of their population every week. If they fall out of the yellow zone because of even lower numbers, no testing is required.

Lawrence Public Schools in western Nassau County will reopen for hybrid learning Monday, said Superintendent Ann Pedersen, adding the district with schools within a yellow zone will comply with the 20% testing requirement.

The district had announced it was going to remote instruction from Oct. 9 through at least Oct. 23, after areas that encompassed three of its five schools had seen a spike in COVID-19 positives, raising alert levels to orange.

In mid-October, the Lawrence school district extended that two-week period of remote instruction. Though the infection rates later declined in the Far Rockaway and Five Towns areas to a lower yellow level, with infection rates below 2%, Pedersen had said the district opted to continue remote instruction through the month.

The state reported an overall 1.5% positivity rate from test results Thursday, including the microclusters where more testing is performed. Without those zones, New York's positivity rate was 1.38%, Cuomo said, touting that the seven-day average of 1.4% positives means the state has the "third-lowest" rate in the country.

Twelve state residents died of coronavirus-related causes Thursday, and 1,085 patients remained hospitalized, representing no increase from the previous day.

Long Island's positivity level was 1.3%, and in New York City 1.6%. New confirmed cases were 166 in Nassau County, 102 in Suffolk County, and 903 in New York City.

Shoreham-Wading River High School closed for in-person instruction Friday, and 110 students, along with eight staff members, were under quarantine, after the Suffolk County Department of Health Services completed contact tracing for two positive cases, district officials said.

A second suspected case of COVID-19 prompted William Floyd school district officials to close the William Paca Middle School in Mastic Beach on Friday, even though a positive was not confirmed.

District officials reported Wednesday that a student at William Paca Middle School and a sibling at Moriches Elementary School, in Moriches, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Long Island public and private schools had, as of Friday, reported 958 coronavirus positives since Sept. 8, an increase of 37 cases from the previous day, according to the state’s COVID-19 Report Card. Of those, 717 were students and 241 were teachers and staff members. The statewide tally was 3,055 students and 1,572 teachers and staff members, for 4,627 who tested positive in that period.

In New York City, about one in 1,000 random tests of public school students and personnel has come back positive for the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

Since the start of in-person schooling, in late September, there have been 63,000 tests, and 69 positive, he said, during a radio appearance on WNYC’s "Brian Lehrer Show."

The city stands at a total of 1,412 positives in schools in the state's report card.

In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone announced "Operation Ghost" this weekend, with county police making "spot checks" at establishments and bars to ensure Halloween parties comply with health protocols to stem spread of the virus.

Suffolk police will be working with the State Liquor Authority, he said.

Bellone said county residents will still be able to celebrate Halloween, though he encouraged people to pursue home activities like pumpkin carving.

Bellone noted that a recent Bellport birthday party led to more than half the 50 people in attendance to become infected with COVID-19, calling it a "cautionary tale." The county saw its daily count of new cases rise to May levels from Wednesday testing results.

Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron said the department hopes businesses will comply with the regulations.

"I truly hope," he said, "our department can be Casper the Friendly Ghost and not scary ghost."

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