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SWR adjusts COVID-19 plan; positive case to no longer trigger automatic closure

The Shoreham-Wading River School District modified several COVID-19 protocols that will limit the requirements for when a building would need to close in light of a positive case.

Superintendent Gerard Poole outlined the changes and provided an overview of the district’s current status related to COVID-19 during a livestreamed Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. Mr. Poole said some of the changes are made possible by an adjustment recently made by the Suffolk County Department of Health to ease the contact tracing requirements.

“In-person learning is just critically important for our students academically, socially, emotionally,” Mr. Poole said. “We want to avoid distance learning and staying home as long as we can.”

The district’s reopening plan had said that if a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19, the building they were in would close for an initial 24-hour period. Now, that building would close only if contact tracing or the cleaning and disinfecting process could not be completed in time.

An emergency early dismissal would only occur if the school receives notice of a positive COVID-19 test and that student or staff member is currently in the building. Mr. Poole said that is an unlikely scenario now since anyone awaiting a test result is required to stay home until they are cleared.

In a case where the district learns of a positive test and the student or staff member is not present, everyone who’s identified as being in close contact or had significant exposure would be isolated and sent home.

Mr. Poole said the DOH has advised that schools do not need to automatically close for a positive case, as had been the original procedure in SWR. The change in contact tracing procedures now requires the district to provide the DOH a list of individuals deemed to be a close contact to someone who has tested positive as opposed to proximate contacts as well.

“It greatly reduces the amount of time that a district needs for contact tracing,” Mr. Poole said, noting that it falls largely on the district to conduct the contact tracing. For SWR, that effort is led by Mr. Poole in consultation with building principals. The health department then issues quarantine guidelines where applicable.

There have now been a total of 28 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the district (22 students, six staff members) since the start of school, including a Middle School student who tested positive this week. Mr. Poole said the “expedited contact tracing process” was able to completed in time Tuesday to allow the building to open Wednesday.

The high school building, however, closed Monday after contact tracing could not be completed in time Sunday after notification of a positive case. The student was symptomatic last Wednesday, so the contact tracing required going back to the prior Monday and Tuesday before the district closed for Thanksgiving break.

“We couldn’t get all that work done in a timely fashion Sunday night,” Mr. Poole said.

During the summer when the district created its reopening plan — which featured a full return to in-person instruction — an unknown factor was the amount of time that would be required for cleaning, Mr. Poole said. He said the buildings are cleaned and disinfected regularly and he doesn’t expect that to be a holdup for a building to open, except possibly if it’s late on a weekend when the district is notified of a positive case.

He said the changes “greatly increase the likelihood” a building will be open the next day after a positive case is reported.

“We’re not going to skip a step or ignore something just to hurry up and open a school building,” he said.

Mr. Poole also said he was able to visit nearby districts in Riverhead and Hampton Bays that were required to conduct testing in response to a yellow zone designation under the state’s micro-cluster system. He spent time overlooking how the operation was set up between the district and DOH. He said he expects a few days notice if an area within the SWR district is on pace toward becoming a micro-cluster zone. If required, he expects the district could meet the 20% testing requirement within a few days based on other districts testing up to 200 people per day. SWR would need to test just over 500 people to reach 20%.