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Combating COVID-19 at Long Island schools

One month in, schools have adjusted to pandemic challenges

Since Sept. 8, the great majority of schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties have managed to function with a degree of normalcy, despite scattered closures and some student and school employee quarantines.

As of Monday, public, private and charter schools in the Long Island region have reported a total of 588 positive test results among students and staff since Sept. 8.

The next big question: Can momentum be maintained?

More than 400,000 students in the region have returned to classes, with most spending at least two or three days a week in school buildings. A smaller number — typically 15% to 35%, depending on the district — have opted for full-time remote instruction at home.

Many school leaders said they'd like to bring more students back to regular classes five days a week. They're acting cautiously, though.

"Is there a chance of a spike and more school closures? Who knows?" said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Malverne schools. "What we do know is that we're prepared for whatever may come."

The number of new positives reported today: 61 in Nassau, 51 in Suffolk, 419 in New York City and 998 statewide.

The chart below shows the number of new cases reported in Nassau and Suffolk counties in recent days. Search a map of new cases and view more charts showing the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

Cuomo: Red zones could change; vaccine plan poses a challenge

New York is seeing progress in curbing high infection levels in about 20 "hot spots," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

The effort to target those "red zones" or "micro-clusters" is yielding good results, so the state will announce changes this week for the zones, which are currently under stricter limits for gatherings, schools and businesses.

The state reported a 1.1% positivity rate outside those red zones and a 3.3% positivity rate in the cluster areas Sunday.

Meanwhile, Cuomo expressed concern about managing a vaccination program in the winter, saying the federal strategy may leave states to run the vaccination programs on their own — which for New York would mean obtaining, storing and administering 20 million vaccines, or even 40 million if two doses are required, for all its residents.

Cuomo said vaccinating everyone is going to be "the hardest operational challenge" since the pandemic began.

Sweet 16 'superspreader event' a red flag

The Miller Place Sweet 16 party that Suffolk County officials said is linked to 37 coronavirus infections shows what can happen without following prevention guidelines — especially as cooler weather pushes more gatherings indoors, experts say.

Twenty-nine people who attended the Sept. 25 party at The Miller Place Inn tested positive, as did eight households and other close contacts of attendees, Suffolk officials said.

Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone said 270 people were placed under quarantine after county investigators traced 334 contacts of attendees. He termed the party a "superspreader event," the county’s worst outbreak tied to a single gathering.

"It serves as yet another warning," said Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. "But it’s not like we haven’t had warnings all along that this would be an issue."

Campaigning during a pandemic looks different

The pandemic has taken a toll on iconic scenes of election years. Fundraising dinners canceled, in-person debates rescheduled to online sessions, re-imagined door-to-door canvassing and planning victory parties without packed ballrooms, political operators and candidates from both parties said.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan, a mecca for politicians seeking electoral and financial support at fundraisers planned around the event, was canceled, along with several of the St. Patrick’s Day parades on Long Island.

In Brooklyn, the Memorial Day parade that has been a staple for politicking since 1867 was canceled because of virus concerns as was New York City’s Columbus Day parade.

But perhaps the most glaring example is the change to the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. For 75 years it has been among the hottest tickets in politics, but this year, it went online. Read more.

More to know

Movie theaters on Long Island can open Friday, as long as they limit attendance to 25%, have no more than 50 people per screen, enforce mask-wearing and have enhanced ventilation systems, Cuomo said Saturday.

President Donald Trump, speaking to campaign aides on a conference call, dismissed the cautionary coronavirus advice of his scientific experts.

School systems across Long Island are offering free meals to more children this school year, after a federal program that provides breakfast and lunch was extended and offered to all districts and all students.

Ski resorts in New York State will be allowed to reopen at 50% indoor capacity on Nov. 6, Cuomo said Sunday.

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research is getting $11.3 million in federal money to study antibodies to the coronavirus and expand testing.

News for you

To trick-or-treat this year or not? Some Long Island families are determined to keep Halloween traditions somewhat alive this year. Long Island parents have ideas from stringing candy on a clothesline to be picked off, to sliding candy out a PVC pipe to get it to children. See more.

But if you're celebrating as an adult... Dress up and bring your dog for "Howl-O-Ween." It's an outdoor pumpkin beer tasting event at the Nutty Irishman on Oct. 24. Don't forget to bring a mask and keep your distance.

Catch Michael DelGuidice at the drive-in. The singer-songwriter who plays in Billy Joel's touring band will hold a drive-in concert at Adventureland in East Farmingdale on Nov. 6. The set will reflect his weekly "Live on the Porch" virtual concerts on Facebook. Get the details.

Turning a 500-person ballroom into a restaurant. Seaview Caterers has opened a new restaurant, 46 Locust, at Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst. The spot now features a kosher menu and private cabanas.

Applying to college during a pandemic. Join us at noon on Tuesday for Newsday's virtual event that brings admissions professionals from a variety of colleges to discuss what you need to know about the application process. Register here.

A drive-through breast cancer 'walk.' The Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk at Jones Beach State Park became a drive-through this year. It included pink decorations on cars and about 700 participants. See how it went.

Plus: Save your spot for the next Newsday Live Music Series event featuring Taylor Dayne at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The Long Island native started with "Tell It To My Heart" and has now sold over 75 million records.

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New York State should suspend testing, evaluations. David A. Gamberg, a retired schools superintendent, writes for Newsday Opinion: As we get through the second month of the fall semester, it is clear that the devastating effects of COVID-19 linger in school buildings in New York State and the communities they strive to serve.

Things are different from any other school year, of course. And the challenge is to determine how and where to look to adjust the patterns and practices of teaching and learning to meet the mission of our schools. As we make every attempt to go back to the normal function of school in safe and healthy ways, we must grapple with the compelling need to restore the social and emotional well-being of students and the staff who support their intellectual growth.

The New York State Board of Regents should know that several areas need attention if it is to help school communities overcome the coronavirus pandemic. There is one area that should be placed on hold for this school year: the teacher-accountability system known by its APPR initials and the repeated use of standardized testing. Because of the current patchwork of learning systems — in-person, remote and hybrid — the concept of measuring student learning and teacher effectiveness is a weak proposition at best. Keep reading.