This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Keldy Ortiz, Carol Polsky and Craig Schneider. It was written by Schneider.

The winter surge of COVID-19 continued to hit Long Island on Thursday, as some schools switched to remote learning, lines formed at test sites, and Gov. Kathy Hochul said she is considering redefining "fully vaccinated" to include a booster shot.

With cases on Long Island rising to levels not seen in months, disruptions occurred in local public schools and colleges. The Clara H. Carlson School in Elmont, for instance, shut its doors Wednesday and will be closed through Friday due to staffing shortages associated with the virus, Superintendent Kenneth Rosner said. Instruction shifted to remote learning, he said.

What to know

The surge of COVID-19 on Long Island is causing disruptions to schools, with buildings in the Elmont and Levittown districts, among others, going remote. Hofstra University announced a booster shot requirement for all students and employees taking effect next month.

Northwell Health officials said there’s been a significant increase in testing for the past two to three weeks.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said the escalating number of virus cases, deaths and hospitalizations across New York has her considering the more stringent measure of including the booster shot in the definition of "fully vaccinated."

At the same time, Hofstra University on Thursday announced a booster shot requirement for all students and employees taking effect next month.

Across the Island, there have been longer lines at some testing centers and shortages of at-home rapid tests.

A significant increase in testing

Northwell Health officials said there’s been a significant increase in testing for the past two to three weeks due to the recent surge in COVID, the omicron variant and expected travel and holiday-related exposures.

About two dozen people waited outside a CityMD on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow on Thursday to get tested for COVID-19.

As he waited, Gary Kaye, of East Quogue, said he wanted to get tested as he plans to travel to Florida with family next week.

"Someone we know tested positive" for COVID-19, said Kaye, 65. "The situation is what it is and we have to deal with it. You don’t want to pass [COVID-19] on to anyone."

Osby Aguilar, of Hempstead, said he wanted to get tested because he wasn't feeling well.

"You never know," Aguilar, 27, said.

At the CityMD Levittown Urgent Care on Hempstead Turnpike, a worker came outside just before 5:30 p.m. to tell those lined up that testing capacity had been reached for the day, and no one else would be admitted for any purpose.

William Isaac, of Ronkonkoma, 39, had to leave without being tested. He wanted a test because he was exposed to someone who had tested positive.

"I do this often," said Isaac, who is vaccinated. "It’s better to be safe. You want to keep family and friends safe."

Spokeswomen for the Nassau and Suffolk county health departments referred inquires about testing to their state counterpart, which didn’t return a message seeking the information.

In New York City, testing positivity is climbing, and the government is planning to increase testing capacity. That means more mobile testing sites, more brick-and-mortar sites, with expanded hours and days at existing sites, along with distributing 500,000 rapid, at-home testing kits free of charge.

Long Island's seven-day positivity rate rose to 7.53% in test results reported on Wednesday, a level not seen since January, according to state statistics.

The Island also saw a total of 3,448 new cases on Wednesday — 1,648 in Nassau and 1,800 in Suffolk — an increase of more than 1,000 over the previous day. Exactly one month earlier, on Nov. 15, Long Island registered a total of 636 cases.

A total of 53 New Yorkers died Wednesday due to virus-related illness, including five in Suffolk and one in Nassau.

New requirements at LI schools

Some Island schools, responding to high cases and quarantines, have turned back to remote instruction.

Division Avenue High School in Levittown shifted to remote learning for Thursday and Friday, Principal John Coscia said. He cited the "unforeseen and rapid rises in COVID cases at our school."

In addition, he said no student is permitted to attend BOCES GC Tech, Barry Tech, LI School for the Arts, alternative education or driver's education during those days.

All athletic games and practices for Thursday and Friday will be rescheduled.

East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School switched to six days of remote learning Wednesday after positive COVID-19 tests forced "approximately 100 students" to quarantine, the district’s superintendent said.

The Oceanside district is also dealing with a rise in cases, which means a rise in those who need to quarantine.

At Oceanside's school board meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Phyllis Harrington said the district has seen 43 cases since Saturday and has 224 children quarantined.

Informing parents that their children have to remain home for 10 days was no easy task, as some wanted to keep their child in school, Harrington said during the meeting.

"We had parents crying. We had parents begging. We've had parents who haven't been very kind about receiving that news," Harrington said.

Concerns over the spread of the omicron variant are growing at college campuses throughout the region and the country.

At Hofstra, officials said booster shots will be required for all students and employees by Jan. 18, or within seven days of eligibility. Vaccines are already mandated for students and employees, and case levels remain low.

At New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, many holiday gatherings and "end-of-year" meetings have been canceled or conducted remotely "in an abundance of caution," spokeswoman Elizabeth Sullivan Roseman said. She noted that Thursday was the last day of classes, with finals beginning Friday. The spring semester begins Jan. 24.

Molloy College in Rockville Centre was reviewing its protocols on Thursday, while no additional actions were underway at SUNY Stony Brook and Farmingdale State College, where cases have remained relatively low as the semester came to an end.

At Stony Brook, the last final exams were to be completed Thursday, with a commencement ceremony to take place as planned Friday.

At Adelphi University in Garden City, where positive cases still number under 50 campuswide, no additional COVID-19 safety measures have been imposed before winter break, which begins Tuesday.

"We are monitoring the effects of omicron closely," spokeswoman Taylor Damian said.

Cornell University in upstate Ithaca imposed remote final exams and canceled events when more than 900 students, most vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 with the omicron variant suspected as the source.

Hochul weighs redefining 'fully vaccinated'

Meanwhile, the governor, speaking during a Thursday morning news conference, said the escalating number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations across New York has her considering the more stringent measure of including the booster shot in the definition of "fully vaccinated."

"Fully vaccinated may mean boosted," Hochul said, adding that she may make an announcement during her State of the State address next month. "Be prepared for that."

The designation, if adopted, could potentially affect policy surrounding access to workplaces and other public indoor sites.

Dr. Bruce Farber, Northwell Health's chief of public health and epidemiology, praised the idea of expanding the definition to include boosters.

"The data speaks to the need for that. Countries such as Israel did it months ago," said Farber, who is also chief of infectious disease for North Shore Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Farber said the two Pfizer-BioNTech shots only provide about 35% to 40% protection from the omicron variant, but the booster increases the defense to a percentage in the high seventies.

He noted that about 60% of those people who've received the double dose and are eligible for a booster have not received it.

Much would depend on the state's ability to enforce a new definition of fully vaccinated, Farber added.

"If the governor has the power to establish that people need to be fully vaccinated to get into venues, it could push people to get the booster," Farber said.

Hochul said Thursday that the mask mandate she put in place last week was the least intrusive action she could take, considering the spiraling amount of illness and death.

Hochul expressed hope that some leaders around the state, who have said they will not enforce the state's mandate requiring masks or vaccines in indoor public places, would "change their minds" as numbers keep getting higher and hospitals become further taxed.

Nassau County Executive-elect Bruce Blakeman, who takes office on Jan. 1, has said he will not enforce the mandate. The administration of the current Nassau executive, Laura Curran, will not be "actively enforcing" the mandate during its final weeks, a spokesperson said. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's office said there will be enforcement of the mandate, though focused mainly on "education" of local businesses.

Hochul has said the state will not compel counties to enforce the order aimed at slowing the rapid spread of COVID-19.

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