Medical staff assist a COVID-positive patient who was crying out...

Medical staff assist a COVID-positive patient who was crying out that he could not breathe, at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, on April 14. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

Almost everyone who has moved into adulthood still remembers lessons learned from the teachers of our youth. The lessons stay with us because they are powerful and true. Even today, we can still learn important lessons from our schools and teachers — lessons that will help us navigate the dangers of this pandemic and help save lives.

During the year, we have conducted hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests in our schools. Without exception, the infection rate in schools in every part of the state is lower than the surrounding community.

Infection rates on average in schools are under 3%. Even in yellow zones, where community spread is more than 5.3%, school infection rates are lower. Massapequa Park, for example, has a community infection rate of 6.6%, but the schools are 3.5%. Elsewhere on Long Island, Hauppauge’s infection rate is 6%, but the school rate is 1.8%. In New Hyde Park, the community infection rate is 3.4%, while the school rate is 1.5%. In Ronkonkoma, the community infection rate is more than 7%, while the school rate is 2.6%. In Syosset, the community infection rate is more than 3%, while the school rate is 1.6%. In Southampton, it’s 2.8% in the community and 1.1% in schools.

As parents know, schools are usually places where illnesses spread easily. But in the case of COVID-19, the safest place in the community is truly the school. That’s because schools follow basic rules. The students and teachers wear masks. They practice social distancing. They frequently wash their hands. Many of the students are serious about doing their part to keep their friends and families safe.

They should be an example to us all. Too many adults have not heeded their education, ignoring the experts and acting without regard for the consequences of their actions by hosting large gatherings or failing to use the most effective tool at our disposal right now: a face covering.

We know how a virus spreads. We have all had someone in our homes catch a virus, and we all know what we have to do to prevent other family members from getting sick. The same is true of COVID-19, only on a larger scale.

All that is required to control its spread is for people to be smart and disciplined. COVID-19 is potent, but it has no power until it enters a person’s body. Maintaining social distancing and wearing masks keeps that from happening. We know bars, restaurants, and large gatherings are problematic. Now social behavior has changed, and more people are gathering in smaller groups in homes. This has become the largest spreader. Home, family and friends seem safe, but not from COVID-19.

Vaccines are coming. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s stay smart — and alive — until we get there.

Andrew M. Cuomo is governor of New York.


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