SOMERS, N.Y. - On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Somers High School reopened its doors after a seven-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, just three weeks later, the school was forced to shut them again—albeit temporarily—when someone there tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
By law, the district is not allowed to reveal that person’s name.
The school district, which had a comprehensive plan for just such a situation, was undaunted. The building was closed immediately and students, teachers and staff sent home.
The next day, the school—which has been operating on a hybrid model offering live instruction as well as remotely—went into full distance learning mode. It contacted the Westchester County Department of Health so that entity could activate its contact tracing system to identify anyone who may have come into close contact with the person who tested positive.
Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of someone who is infected for more than 10 minutes.
Those who may have been exposed were called by an official tracer and the school district sent emails to notify families whether their children had contact with the infected individual.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch urged everyone to answer the calls immediately and to give the county contact tracers “the information they need to protect us all.”
In a message sent on Friday, Sept. 25, Blanch announced that high school classes would resume on Tuesday, Sept. 29. He thanked everyone for their “cooperation and patience” and wished all “good health during these very challenging times.”
However, the high school would stayed closed on Tuesday, Sept. 29, because of staffing shortages due to both the quarantine and other absences.
Blanch then had to inform everyone late Monday, Sept. 28, that Primrose Elementary School would have to close for 48 hours because a COVID-19 case had turned up there, as well.
Primrose, he said in a statement on the district’s website, would go into full distance learning on Tuesday, Sept. 29. The high school also would remain in remote learning mode.
He advised the school community to check the website for updates.
The responses to both situations were the same.
If parents didn’t receive the district’s email within 48 hours, Blanch said, their child “was NOT believed to have any risk of exposure.”
The superintendent reminded everyone to remain vigilant, to self-quarantine and get tested if they might have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
As part of its 2020-2021 reentry plan, the district required anyone who would be attending school in person (at-home learners were exempt) to fill out a daily health survey. Anyone who suspects they are ill must stay home and consult their own physician.
The fact that so many schools and colleges across the nation have had to temporarily shut down apparently comes as no surprise to health and education experts.
According to the independent news organization Education Week, those it interviewed expressed safety concerns but none (even in districts that had had coronavirus cases) felt that in-person instruction, when intelligently carried out, should be completely kicked to the curb. They also agreed that outbreaks were to be expected as schools reopened, the publication reported.
What is most important, they said, is that districts stay on top of “virus patterns” in their regions and have strong safety and response plans in place.
But even if they are doing everything right, some districts are just going to be “unlucky,” one epidemiologist told the publication.
Blanch told the school community Friday, Sept. 25, that he knows “how stressful this situation is.”
Little did he know, however, that a second school closing would so soon be compounding that stress.
“As a district we prioritize health and safety for all, and we will follow all guidelines and protocols to ensure a healthy and safe school environment,” he promised.