The new COVID mandate is old news for the Island school

When Gov. Kathy Hochul (R) announced that a mask warrant was due to go into effect this week for gatherings inside, Shelter Island school officials did not hesitate. These restrictions have been in place in the district since the pandemic became known in 2020.

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., said Monday evening that changes were not required to comply with the mandate thanks to all the measures taken by the district, including the wearing of masks by students , staff and visitors; a state-of-the-art air filtration system installed in 2020; and added sinks for frequent hand washing.

The school has not seen a new case of COVID-19 since early November, despite an increase in the number in the county and the country. A trip to Disney World for 8th and 9th graders last week was arranged with all necessary COVID protocols in place.

Unlike most schools in New York City which closed for long periods of time and only offered virtual learning, Shelter Island only closed briefly at first to put in place protocols and take action that allowed most students and staff to stay healthy.

While providing iPads and virtual learning for a few days needed, like when the school building was open for immunizations from community members, virtual learning was little needed.

The state is also requiring school districts to publish parent immunization surveys to collect additional data to increase immunizations for school-aged children following the recent expansion of eligibility for 5 to 11 years old.

Last week, the governor said about 20% of 5-11 year olds had been vaccinated with at least one dose and about 5.8% had completed the vaccination series.

“The first wave of children have now received their second dose,” she said. “These aren’t big numbers, but they’re doing fine. Last week it was 0.5% of children in this age group who are fully immunized and now it’s 5.8%. This is good, but we have a long way to go.

The governor said officials hope to know from the investigation whether parents are having difficulty accessing the vaccine and where they are looking to get the vaccine, whether it’s a pediatrician’s office or local pharmacies.

“We want to know what’s going on and understand the numbers better and work with our local health services to target high-need areas that need extra support,” she said.

Ms Hochul said one million COVID-19 home test kits have been ordered and will be distributed to county health departments with an emphasis on passing the tests on to schools and parents. Testing will help when a student tests positive and their classmates need to test negative to return and thus limit unnecessary quarantines.

Dr Mary Bassett, the state’s new health commissioner, said the department is focusing on the wider impact of COVID, particularly related to children’s mental health.

Dr Bassett last week, while the omicron variant is a concern, almost all current cases have been linked to the delta variant, which “remains the overwhelming dominant strain in the United States.” There have now been 20 confirmed cases of omicron in New York City, including three in Suffolk County last week. The variant has now been confirmed in at least half of the US states.

“We don’t yet know if omicron will outperform delta,” said Dr Bassett.

When reviewing COVID cases, Ms Hochul said state officials are reviewing cases per 100,000 over an average of seven days in each region. She said that figure provides more clarity as there is less certainty about the number of daily tests being done with the increase in home testing.

Long Island is currently above the state average at 60.03 per 100,000. New York City, the most densely populated region, has the lowest rate at 30.21.

The governor said there continues to be a slight increase in hospitalizations and that areas with lower vaccination rates have higher rates. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services reported 237 hospital patients in the county as of December 8 with COVID-19. Hospitalization figures are even better in the region compared to a year ago, when the vaccine was first approved. That date last year still represented the early rise in hospitalizations, which peaked around Jan. 18 during the holiday wave, before starting to decline steadily until mid-March.

“It’s not the falling sky, we just want to make sure people take this very seriously,” Ms. Hochul said.


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