In response to rising COVID-19 cases, school officials urge community to follow guidelines

A growing number of coronavirus cases in the community has led some local school officials to renew calls for masks and social distancing.

On Monday, following the holiday break, Riverhead interim superintendent Christine Tona reported 25 positive cases between Dec. 19 and Jan. 4. Of those, 18 cases were reported in staff members.

Ms. Tona has since reported additional cases in 17 students and three staff members across all seven school buildings and the district office this week.

Officials said steps were taken to notify those in close contact with the individuals, with quarantine orders issued if required. On Dec. 30, the county Department of Health changed their guidance, reducing the quarantine period from 14 to 10 days, as long as no symptoms are present.

No schools were closed as a result of the positive cases, Ms. Tona said.

In Mattituck, seven cases were reported at the secondary level and one case in the elementary school, according to superintendent Jill Gierasch.

“What we have recently come across in many of our reported cases is the lack of adhering to social distancing outside of school, children having reported to parents that they had symptoms prior to attending school, and yet were sent anyway,” Ms. Gierasch wrote in a letter to families this week. 

“We cannot emphasize enough to keep your children home when they are not well,” she wrote, urging parents to err on the side of caution.

Ms. Gierasch emphasized that schools are safe and said outside activities and ignoring virus protocols could threaten in-person learning.

She said due to rising cases, the district is planning for the potential of on-site COVID-19 testing, which could aid in keeping schools open.

The Shoreham-Wading River School District reported 15 new cases among students from Dec. 30-Jan. 5, according to data reported to State Department of Health. During that time, two staff members tested positive.

According to data released by the county health department Thursday, 2,194 new cases of COVID-19 were reported and the infection rate remains at 10.5%. That figure represents the highest single day total in the recent spike and third day over 2,000 in the last eight day period.

Across the county, 840 people remain hospitalized and there are 124 patients in the ICU. Officials reported 22 fatalities related to the virus Thursday.

Officials continued to warn the public that stress on hospital capacity could lead to another economic shutdown. In Suffolk County, health officials reported that of 3,259 hospital beds, 630 are available and in the ICU, 67 of 435 beds are available.