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More than 420,000 test kits for kids hit Island; distribution to begin next week 

The Commack school district plans to survey parents

The Commack school district plans to survey parents about their interest in receiving at-home COVID-19 testing kits for their children. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

More than 420,000 COVID-19 test kits were delivered to BOCES facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Thursday afternoon, as school officials across Long Island alerted parents that distribution could begin shortly after students return Monday from the holiday break.

Nassau BOCES received 196,000 test kits from the state on Thursday at its facility in Syosset. Each COVID-19 antigen at-home kit includes two tests, intended for one person and to be used over two to three days. The rapid diagnostic test provides a result in 10 minutes.

The state "wants to get them out to the students" first, said Robert Dillon, district superintendent for Nassau BOCES, as boxes of kits were unloaded into a warehouse. "I'm hoping more will come [for the staff]. We'll see."

Dillon said distribution to the districts likely will begin early next week.

Julie Lutz, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said Thursday afternoon that Eastern Suffolk also had received a shipment, of 151,391 kits, at its North Patchogue facility. Western Suffolk BOCES received 76,470 kits, spokeswoman Nancy Fischetti said.

School leaders across Long Island, including in the Bayport-Blue Point, Commack and Huntington districts, informed parents this week that they expect to receive COVID-19 test kits after students return, but would not be sending the kits home with kids.

District leaders said testing would not be required or take place in the schools, but rather serve as an "additional resource" for parents.

Plainview-Old Bethpage school officials said the earliest they could distribute tests would be Monday and that more communication would be forthcoming. Cold Spring Harbor school officials said they could start distribution as early as Wednesday, but that it's completely voluntary.

"Once the kits have been received, we will share the plan for distribution to interested parents," Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Jill M. Gierasch wrote in a letter to parents dated Wednesday and posted on the district's website. "We will not be sending home kits with students, nor will we require participation in testing."

Dillon said earlier this week that each student is expected to get one test kit. That came from a Zoom conversation BOCES leaders had with Gov. Kathy Hochul's office, he said.

"It's a resource being provided to the parents," Dillon said Thursday.

Dillon said the logistical planning ahead of a holiday weekend has been challenging. "It's kind of like the perfect storm … as far as obstacles in our way," he said.

Nassau BOCES' tests will be divided by the county’s 56 districts based on student enrollment. Each district has to make its own plan for parents to pick up the tests, Dillon said.

Meanwhile, some are grumbling about the distribution process. Emily Beys, president of the Port Washington school board, said this past week has been a "hectic" one, as local school officials have not had enough guidance from the state on the rollout.

Beys said she doesn’t know how many tests Port Washington will get or whether there would be enough for each student.

"The process could have been better," she said. "I do applaud the governor's initiative and her efforts to get us the tests. What has been frustrating for school districts is the implementation of getting us the tests."

Beys said her district is encouraging — not mandating — its 5,200 students and 500 staff members to get tested before returning Monday. Testing appointments offered at Paul D. Schreiber High School before Monday have been booked, but the district also will accept at-home test results, she said.

Districts plan to survey parents

Several districts, including Bayport Blue-Point, Commack, Elwood and Lindenhurst, said they planned to survey parents about their interest in obtaining a test.

In a letter to parents on Wednesday, Commack interim Superintendent David J. Flatley said the district may not receive the kits until after Monday. Flatley said once the district had the kits and input from a survey of parents, it would "determine a process for distribution based upon the need." He added, "We will NOT be sending kits home in backpacks."

The letter also indicated Suffolk County districts expect to soon receive guidance from the county's health department regarding a "Test to Stay" program, which would permit students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to continue to attend school as long as they test negative for the coronavirus.

Flatley wrote that the guidance only applies to school-based exposures to COVID-19 and to participation in classroom instruction. Test to Stay does not permit participation in sports and other extracurricular activities.

Suffolk County said in a statement Wednesday it was endorsing Test to Stay, but would leave the decision whether to participate up to the districts.

Huntington school officials told parents in a letter Wednesday that although the count and date of the tests' arrival was unclear, they expected the tests to be made available sometime early next week. At that time, the tests would be inventoried and made available for pickup, read the letter from Superintendent James Polansky.

He wrote that Huntington also was awaiting direction from Suffolk's health department regarding Test to Stay, but added the district plans to participate.

"This will allow for only asymptomatic school-designated close contacts to enter a serial testing regimen so that students may remain in school as long as they continue to test negative. Additionally, it will apply only to the classroom setting and not to extracurricular activities," Polansky wrote.

Hochul has urged districts to implement Test to Stay, emphasizing the importance of keeping schools open. Part of that plan includes sending millions of test kits to districts throughout the state.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Test to Stay uses contact tracing and two rounds of testing for children who do not have symptoms but have been in close contact with another student or staffer who has tested positive for COVID-19. The children who have been exposed and are not vaccinated can continue with in-person learning if they test negative twice during a seven-day period post-exposure.

Students who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine if they are exposed and would not be included in Test to Stay, according to the CDC.

Plainview-Old Bethpage Superintendent Mary O'Meara said in a letter to parents that administrators across Nassau met and are committed to opening for in-person instruction Monday. However, "The significant increase in cases may impact a district's ability to safely staff a school. In that instance, a remote option would be considered," she said.

Polansky said Huntington does not plan to turn to remote instruction unless it becomes a "logistical necessity."

With Michael O'Keeffe

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What to know

More than 420,000 COVID-19 test kits were delivered to BOCES facilities in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Thursday afternoon.

Each COVID-19 antigen at-home kit includes two tests, intended for one person and to be used over two to three days. The rapid diagnostic test provides a result in 10 minutes.

School district leaders across Long Island informed parents this week that COVID-19 test kit distribution could begin shortly after students return Monday from the holiday break, but that they would not be sending tests home with kids.

Some districts plan to survey parents about their interest in the tests.

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