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Wantagh High seniors back to remote after virus cases linked to 'social gathering'

Wantagh High School is seen in September. It

Wantagh High School is seen in September. It moved its senior class to remote learning after a group of students tested positive for the coronavirus. Credit: Raychel Brightman

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

The senior class at Wantagh High School was forced into remote learning because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among some students at the school, the district superintendent said Wednesday.

Fifteen students, including 13 seniors, who "appear to be directly connected to a social gathering" last weekend tested positive for the virus, Wantagh Superintendent John C. McNamara said.

The cases prompted school officials to place all senior class members in full-time remote classes this week, though the state has been pushing for expanded in-person instruction as levels of virus spread continue to drop.

On Tuesday, infection positivity levels in tests declined to a level last seen before a surge of cases was tracked from late November through the holiday period, as more people seek to get vaccinated.

"We need more supply to thoroughly vaccinate the population and begin our transition to a post-pandemic world," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.

In Wantagh, a district spokesperson said students in other grade levels continued to attend classes in the school building.

While the district said initially that seniors were banned from participation in athletics, varsity teams were to continue playing games as scheduled. Later Wednesday, McNamara said contact-tracing at the high school was completed and those impacted were notified. Seniors were allowed to participate in athletic activities following COVID-19 testing protocols.

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McNamara said the moves were made in consultation with the Nassau County Department of Health and that any student or staff member "deemed a close contact" of those testing positive would be notified to begin a mandatory quarantine. The district is offering free screening tests to senior class members.

He also said the district would "continue to monitor" the situation "to ensure that there is no further impact to additional students or grade levels that would require a more extensive closure of Wantagh High School."

McNamara said the two cases outside the senior class appear "unrelated" to the social gathering where the 12th-graders are believed to have been infected, but the district did not disclose the grades of those students.

Earlier this week, Cuomo pushed school districts to get as many students as possible back into classrooms for in-person instruction, and called remote instruction a poor substitute.

He ordered districts to start reporting to local governments how many students are receiving in-person instruction, and how often, as well as how many of their teachers are vaccinated. While he favors students getting back to regular classes, Cuomo said he understands the fears of teachers and wants as many vaccinated, as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he hopes to announce in the next few weeks the timing of reopening public high school buildings, which have been closed since November in the boroughs.

"I am very hopeful, given everything we’re seeing, that we can get high school back and get it back relatively soon; it’s something I absolutely want to do in this school year we’re in right now," he said.

Middle school buildings will reopen Thursday. Elementary schools began reopening Dec. 7. High schools have been all-remote since the systemwide closure in November.

About 30,000 of the city's public school educators have been vaccinated, de Blasio said.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, sounded a skeptical note: "The UFT represents more than 120,000 teachers, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals and other school-based members. Even putting the most positive spin on the city's numbers, there are tens of thousands of staff who have not yet had access to the vaccine."

COVID-19 positivity levels continued to decline statewide, with a 2.85% daily rate from 216,813 test results on Tuesday, the lowest figure since Nov. 21, Cuomo said.

The seven-day average statewide was 3.36%, while the level was 4.1% on Long Island and 4.35% in New York City.

The number of new confirmed cases was 519 in Nassau County, 425 in Suffolk County and 3,363 in New York City. Hospitalizations declined by 101 patients to a statewide total of 5,876.

The state said 99 people died of causes related to the virus, including 11 in Nassau and six in Suffolk.

Nassau: Saturday a vaccination day in Elmont

Nassau County will hold a "community vaccination day" in Elmont on Saturday, part of its strategy to target communities of color hit hard by COVID-19.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county is partnering with local elected officials, the school district and Northwell Health to provide 1,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to people who live or work in Elmont.

The event from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Elmont Memorial High School gym will follow state vaccine eligibility guidelines.

Northwell Health will handle the appointments, Curran said. Second-dose appointments are scheduled for March 27.

Vaccination site opens in Queens

Cuomo on Wednesday opened a new coronavirus vaccination center at York College in Jamaica, Queens — one of two new sites aimed at providing what the governor called "not just access, but equitable access" for underserved communities.

The sites — the other is at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn — will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily. For the first week, they will serve only people in nearby communities.

"We're going to do a lot of good, we're going to save lives at this site," said Cuomo, who was surrounded by a group of local ministers, public officials and health care professionals.

COVID-19 has killed "twice as many Black people as white people" and "1½ times as many Hispanic people as white people" — exposing health care inequities in the process, he said.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) received his vaccination to help open the facility at York College. Bishop Calvin Rice of New Jerusalem Worship Center in Jamaica said he had already received both of his COVID-19 vaccination shots, explaining: "We've seen what our communities look like fighting COVID without the vaccine and it's painful."


Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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