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COVID-19 cases shut two Port Washington schools

School buses are parked in a bus depot

School buses are parked in a bus depot in Ronkonkoma. Schools reopened across Long Island over the last two weeks, and the state since has launched a site to track coronavirus cases in each school district. Credit: James Carbone

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Catherine Carrera, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones and Keldy Ortiz. It was written by Carrera, Colangelo and Jones.

Two Port Washington students tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the district to shut down in-person classes Tuesday at Paul D. Schreiber High School and John J. Daly Elementary School.

"We are following all building sanitizing and cleaning protocols," said Superintendent Michael Hynes in a letter Monday to the school community. The high school was operating under a hybrid plan while the elementary schools in the district are following a fully in-person plan five days a week.

The letter doesn't specify when the schools will reopen. It says they will be closed Tuesday and that the district "will share additional information as it becomes available." The students will follow fully remote schedules Tuesday.

The two cases are the latest reports of the coronavirus among staff and students across Long Island schools since the academic year began earlier this month.

At least five public schools on Long Island reported cases on Monday, with a middle school in Syosset canceling in-person classes for the day and an elementary school in South Huntington moving to fully remote classes until Sept. 24 after staff at each school tested positive for the virus.

One district, Smithtown, had reported that a middle school student was infected with the virus, but then rescinded it when the district was informed the student was wrongly identified as COVID-19 positive.

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The newly reported cases came in the third week of the reopening of schools on Long Island, and after scattered instances of COVID-19 cases in both Nassau and Suffolk school districts, as the state activated a website where school coronavirus cases will be tracked.

A student at the middle school in Seaford, an employee at a middle school in West Babylon, a teacher at the Countrywood Primary Center in South Huntington schools, and either a student or staff member at Ward Melville High School in Setauket tested positive, though most of those schools were not closed, officials said.

South Huntington, however, said it was canceling in-person classes at Countrywood until Sept. 24.

In-person classes were canceled for the day at South Woods Middle School in the Syosset Central School District after a staff member was confirmed positive for COVID-19. The school held a virtual day of learning on Monday, officials said.

"The school building was sanitized and deep-cleaned Sunday evening, and we are awaiting notification from the Department of Health on the results of the contact tracing investigation," Tricia Williams, a spokeswoman for the Syosset Central School District, told Newsday in an email on Monday. "We plan to communicate with parents later today on when in-person classes will resume."

Williams said this is the first positive case of a student or staff member the district is aware of since the start of school last week.

In South Huntington, Superintendent David Bernardo said in a recorded phone call to residents that a teacher at the elementary school in Huntington Station had tested positive and the school would move to remote learning as a cautionary measure, saying "we are going to put safety first."

The state's COVID-19 infection rate remained under 1% on Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday. That marked 38 straight days the number of new positive tests did not top 1% of all people tested. Long Island's rate, after showing a slight uptick for several days, was back under 1% as well.

Overall, there are 583 additional positive COVID-19 cases in New York State, including 53 in Nassau County and 31 in Suffolk County. Four people died of COVID-19-related causes Sunday, including one in Suffolk County.

West Babylon Superintendent Yiendhy Farrelly said in a letter to parents Monday that an employee assigned to West Babylon Junior High School had tested positive for COVID-19. Farrelly said the employee will not be allowed to return to school for at least 10 days of being symptom-free or after a negative test result has been provided to the district.

"Following guidance issued by the New York State Education Department and Suffolk County Department of Health, the space used by this employee has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected," Farrelly said in the letter. "We are in contact with the Suffolk County Department of Health and will follow all necessary protocols to mitigate any exposure to anyone who have been in contact with this staff member."

Farrelly said people who were in close contact with the staff member will be notified by the Suffolk County Department of Health and will have to begin a mandatory two-week quarantine.

In Setauket, Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of schools for the Three Village Central School District, informed parents in a letter that "a student/staff member at Ward Melville High School has tested positive for COVID-19. Please note that the individual has not been in the building since coming in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID- 19. In accordance with our health and safety protocols, all affected areas have been appropriately cleaned and disinfected and have been reopened for use."

Deirdre Gilligan, an outside spokeswoman for the district, said CDC guidelines were being followed and that the person could return after 10 days absent a negative test. In addition to what’s in the letter, Gilligan said, the district was following the CDC guidelines spelled out in "When You Can be Around Others After You Had or Likely Had COVID-19" guidelines, updated Thursday on the CDC website — that the infected person also must have, without taking a fever reducer, gone 24 hours without a fever, and have other symptoms improving.

On Friday, the Seaford school district said a student at Seaford Middle School tested positive and wouldn't be allowed back until the health department clears the return. A district letter sent Friday to families and personnel said the district consulted with the Nassau health department, and "due to the circumstances of this particular case and the implementation of masks, barriers and social distancing in the classrooms, we have not been advised to quarantine."

Meanwhile, a freshman dorm at New York University is under quarantine after four students without symptoms tested positive for coronavirus, according to The Washington Square News, the student-run newspaper. The dorm, Rubin Residence Hall at 35 Fifth Ave., is under quarantine until at least Tuesday and the four students are isolating, the paper reported. On Monday, all Rubin residents were to be retested using a saliva test, which NYU students living in the dorms are required to do weekly, the paper reported.

A statewide "COVID-19 Report Card" was also up and running on Monday, allowing people to check for new confirmed cases in any school district in New York.

The site lists cases in each district over the last two weeks, the percentage of staff and students confirmed positive, graphs showing seven-day trends, and other information.

Cuomo said the State Liquor Authority and State Police Task Force visited 1,018 bars and restaurants in New York City and Long Island on Sunday and found eight of them violated state regulations designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. Five of the sites were in Nassau County, two in Queens and one in Manhattan.

MTA 'Mask Force' seeking compliance

On the first day that police could issue $50 fines to transit riders not wearing masks, the MTA’s "Mask Force" was out in big numbers, including at several Long Island Rail Road stations. But agency officials said collecting fines was not their objective.

"Giving a fine is the last thing we’re looking to do," said Long Island Rail Road president Phillip Eng, who joined other MTA representatives in distributing masks throughout the transit system Monday morning. "It’s about courtesy and peace of mind for others. We know that masks work, both in stopping the spread and in alleviating stress for people."

MTA officials held a news conference at the LIRR’s Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn on Monday afternoon to discuss the new fine policy. They did not disclose how many — if any — fines already had been issued, but MTA chairman Patrick Foye noted the agency had "started at a good place," with more than 90% of system users already complying with the mask order.

Foye said the new fines are "not about revenue," even though the pandemic has devastated the finances of the MTA, which is seeking a $12 billion federal bailout.

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