Schools without data face closure

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press briefing in the Red Room at the State Capitol on Tuesday. Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

ALBANY — The state will close any New York school district that fails to submit daily COVID-19 testing and infection data to comply with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order, officials said Friday.

Cuomo sent letters to 42 of the state’s 713 school districts Friday, or about 6%, demanding they submit the required coronavirus data to the state Department of Health each day, or else schools will be closed to in-person classes and limited to remote, or online, learning as the pandemic continues.

All schools, local health departments, laboratories and testing sites are required to report daily coronavirus data to the DOH to be included on the state’s tracker, according to Cuomo’s Sept. 8 executive order.

“Forty-two schools are receiving orders for noncompliance in submitting data,” the governor said Friday during a telephone coronavirus briefing. “Six hundred and forty-eight school districts submitted data. That’s 94%.

“I don’t know why. I’m sure every school district has a separate explanation. They’re in violation of the law and they’re going to get a letter.”

Representatives from the governor’s press office did not respond to multiple requests for comment when questioned how long schools will have to comply with the Sept. 8 mandate before the state shutters a district, or how long a district will remain closed.

Ninety-seven new COVID-19 cases in schools were reported to the state Thursday, including 58 positive students and 39 teachers and staff members.

The state’s public coronavirus interactive tool, the COVID-19 Report Card, tracks virus infections and testing numbers in each of the state’s 713 school districts at schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov.

The governor has said the tracker serves as a system of checks and balances as schools that reopened for in-person learning this fall were required to submit detailed testing and reopening plans to the state.

“We need to know the data to know if they’re operating safely,” Cuomo said. “I told the parents of the state that we will have the data and if the data shows any problematic situation, we’ll close down the school. If we don’t have the data, then you’re having children walk into the school blind, if you will, and we’re not going to do that.”

All seven Franklin County school districts had filed their reports on Thursday, according to the state’s COVID dashboard for schools. But St. Regis Falls district officials went to fully-remote learning on Thursday, saying they could not meet the state requirement for a 48-hour turnaround to get test results.

The state’s 713 school districts reported about 4,500 new coronavirus diagnostic testing results to the DOH on Thursday, with about 1,800 results from public districts. Schools have conducted about 66,000 tests since the start of the 2020-21 academic year last month, with 29,000 completed by public schools and about 36,000 conducted through non-public and charter districts, Cuomo said.

Schools not complying with submitting COVID-19 testing data indicates a problem, the governor said.

“If the school can’t provide the testing data, it probably means the school isn’t testing,” he said. “If the school said they were going to test and then they’re not testing, that means there’s an issue. The schools all came up with plans. The data submission is really the evidence of implementation of the plan, and if they’re not implementing the plan and if that was the basis upon which parents sent back their children, they should know.”

Officials continue to study the state’s top 20 COVID-19 hotspot ZIP codes mainly concentrated in Rockland and Orange counties in the Mid-Hudson Region, and neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, which primarily originated from large religious gatherings in the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities. Members of the state’s coronavirus task force are also monitoring hundreds of new virus infections in the city of Binghamton and several surrounding towns in Broome County, Western New York and various colleges and university campuses across upstate to prevent a second wave of COVID-19.

The hotspot ZIP codes had an average 5.4% positive infection rate, which skews the statewide infection rate higher.

The state reported 1,194 new COVID-19 infections of 131,993 tests conducted Thursday, or 1.1% positive, including the hotspot ZIP codes or areas with virus clusters. New York had a 0.9% infection rate Friday without the hotspot testing oversample.

“We are oversampling a very small part of the state that has a very high infection rate,” Cuomo said. “That oversample when added to the statewide number is a skewed number.”

The hotspot ZIP codes represent about 20% of the state’s new virus cases, or 2.8% of the state’s population of about 19.5 million people.

“We are now attacking the virus within 2.8% of the population,” Cuomo said. “That’s because we have so much testing data, we can get that specific and when you see it growing anywhere, then blow the whistle and send all the firefighters to put out those embers.”

COVID-19 infections throughout the rest of New York’s 10 regions remains low, with a 0.7% positive rate in the Capital Region, 0.3% positive in the North Country, 0.5% in the Mohawk Valley and 0.8% in the Finger Lakes on Friday. Infection rates remained at 0.9% positive in Central New York and on Long Island. Western New York held steady Friday at 1.3% positive after a surge of clusters tied to factory workers. The Mid-Hudson Region, which includes Rockland and Orange counties, was at 2.1% positive Friday, down slightly from 2.2% on Thursday. New York City remained flat at 1.2% new infections, but has an overall skewed positivity rate because of the dense population.

Six New Yorkers died from the virus Thursday, down from 10 on Wednesday.

Twenty-five more coronavirus patients entered state hospitals for a total of 779 hospitalized Friday. The number of hospitalizations has sharply increased from about 500 patients over the last two weeks as virus hotspots persist.

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