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Church and school cases on Long Island point to lingering COVID-19 risk

People wear masks as they cross Queens Boulevard

People wear masks as they cross Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, Queens. Credit: Charles Eckert

This story was reported by Michael Gormley, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

A newly ordained Roman Catholic priest may have had COVID-19 while he celebrated Masses at a parish in Floral Park this week, while four students in Carle Place tested positive before the start of classes, church and school officials confirmed Friday.

The separate instances come as reminders of the lingering risk of coronavirus spread, even as the state marked four straight weeks of new positives falling below 1% despite high testing.

The Rev. Rafal Borowiejski, an associate pastor at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church, found out Wednesday that he had been exposed to someone with the virus at an event last Saturday, said Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

Before he knew, he celebrated several Masses on Sunday, and daily Masses on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Dolan said.

Borowiejski found out Wednesday from a contact tracer that he was exposed to someone with the virus, got tested and was told Thursday he has COVID-19. Borowiejski, who became a priest in June, is asymptomatic and is self-quarantining in his room at the parish rectory for 14 days, Dolan said.

The church is urging anyone who attended the Masses or was in close contact with Borowiejski since Aug. 29 to get a COVID-19 test. Dolan said he did not know of any other cases in the diocese of priests becoming infected with COVID-19.

Meanwhile, four students in the Carle Place school district have tested positive for COVID-19, Superintendent Christine Finn said in a note to parents Friday. Finn said the students have not been inside school buildings and will not be permitted to enter school when the district reopens for in-person instruction Wednesday.

“We are working with involved families to ensure that anyone who was in proximate contact with these students will also stay home,” she said in the letter. “The individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as those who have been in close or proximate contact with them, will not be allowed to return to the school until they are symptom-free for at least 14 days, or until a negative test result is provided to the district.”

The district declined to say the grades of the students or which schools they attend.

Dolan said the Diocese's churches, too, are following "strict protocols" to reduce the possibility of transmission, such as eliminating the sign of peace during which people traditionally shake hands, or in the case of relatives or close friends hug or kiss.

Churches are operating at 50% capacity, and taking steps such as blocking every other pew to spread out parishioners.

Long Island inched above 1%

In testing results from Thursday, Long Island inched above the statewide infection level, with 1.4% positives out of 13,304 test results from Nassau and Suffolk counties. The region's seven-day average for coronavirus cases is at the 1% mark for positives, according to state figures.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Friday marked 100 days since the region began reopening businesses and activities.

"Our residents have done an outstanding job containing the virus," Curran said. "By following the common-sense guidelines and expanding access to testing, Nassau has maintained a positivity rate of around 1% this summer despite the resumption of higher-risk industries and activities. We beat the odds and proved that it’s possible to reopen without causing an outbreak."

She added that "COVID-19 outbreaks consistently have been linked to large parties, especially indoors, where little to no precautions were taken. If you’re celebrating with friends and family this holiday weekend, please stay smart, be safe and look out for each other."

Out of 93,395 test results completed Thursday statewide, 864, or 0.92%, were confirmed positive, the state said. The number of new confirmed cases was 84 in Nassau County, 96 in Suffolk County, and 325 in New York City.

"Thanks to the hard work of New Yorkers across the state, New York has now gone four straight weeks with an infection rate below one percent," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

Five people died of coronavirus-related causes across the state on Thursday, while 428 people were hospitalized with the virus.

The local uptick is a concern, said Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell Health.

“Now we need to pay attention and see what the next few days bring,” Battinelli said. “But we have to start paying attention. As kids go back to school, and there are parties, this is what you’re going to get.”

He added that Northwell expects to see sporadic outbreaks.

Meanwhile, in Albany, State University of New York Chancellor James Malatras ordered all colleges in the system to start testing for the virus and to monitor cases of COVID-19 — following a cluster of cases at SUNY Oneonta that led to the cancellation of in-person classes for the semester.

SUNY can test every student in the 64-campus system every two weeks, a spokeswoman said.

“By launching immediate surveillance testing on every campus, we are giving ourselves the best shot to identify the presence of this virus before it can spread further across a campus,” Malatras said.

A state task force continued to crack down on businesses that violate coronavirus control laws, issuing summonses to six bars or restaurants, including two in Suffolk County and one in Nassau County.

State troopers and State Liquor Authority agents visited 1,272 establishments in New York City and on Long Island on Thursday, according to Cuomo’s office.

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