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Foss: School covid numbers are encouraging

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Categories: Opinion, Sara Foss

The numbers look good. 

Surprisingly good, even. 

The big fear about reopening K-12 schools concerned their potential to fuel outbreaks of COVID-19.

So far, that doesn’t appear to be happening, with schools throughout the country reporting low levels of infection among students and staff. 

That bodes well for New York, which reopened its schools later than much of the U.S. and has only just started tracking cases among students and staff.

Just last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the state’s coronavirus tracker for public, private and charter schools, which allows users to see if students and staff have tested positive for the virus in individual districts and schools. 

As time goes on and more data gets reported, this site ought to become more helpful, giving us real insight into what’s happening in schools throughout New York. 

Right now it’s too early to glean much from the numbers, which show a smattering of cases but tell us little else.

Tooling around on the site, I learned that three COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Saratoga Springs City School District, all of them high school students studying off-site. 

Those raw numbers are interesting, but what do they actually mean? Far more relevant, it seems to me, is that zero coronavirus cases have been reported among the 1,869 students and teachers working and learning at the high school. 

So long as COVID-19 remains a presence in our communities, schools are going to see cases.  

What matters is that schools and families respond quickly, identifying students and staff who test positive, isolating them and tracing their contacts with the aid of public health officials. A building-wide shutdown shouldn’t be necessary unless there’s a big outbreak. 

Encouragingly, schools in other parts of the country have found little evidence that the virus is spreading within school buildings. 

Research from Brown University, which created a COVID-19 School Response Dashboard to track covid cases at schools throughout the country, finds that infection rates in schools are low – often lower than in the surrounding community.  

Thus far, the dashboard has collected data from more than 550 U.S. schools serving roughly 200,000 students. For the two week period ending Sept. 13, the dashboard found that 0.23 percent of students had a confirmed or suspected case of coronavirus; among teachers, it was 0.49 percent. 

“These numbers will be, for some people, reassuring and suggest that school openings may be less risky than they expected,” Emily Oster, an economist at Brown who spearheaded the creation of the dashboard, told the Washington Post, adding, “I don’t think these numbers say all places should open schools with no restrictions or anything that comes close to it. Ultimately, school districts are going to have different attitudes toward risk.” 

That’s certainly true, and it’s worth noting that we still don’t know how this school year will play out. 

Will we see a second wave of COVID-19 this winter, and an increase of cases among students and teachers? 

Those questions haven’t been answered – yet. 

But what we’ve learned about schools and COVID-19 transmission provides reason for cautious optimism. 

Perhaps we can send kids back to school safely after all. 

My Thursday column looked at the issue of whether family members of nursing home residents should be granted “essential caregiver” status and allowed to have hands-on visits with their loved ones. The people I spoke with had relatives living at the Schenectady Center on Altamont Ave., which had yet to reopen for visitation under the state’s strict guidelines. 

Late last week, those families received some good news: The Schenectady Center will reopen for visits on Monday. 

Jeffrey Jacomowitz, director of corporate communications for Centers Health Care, the Bronx-based company that owns the Center, said that the state Department of Health had approved the Schenectady Center’s reopening. 

Visits will be appointment-only, limited to 30 minutes, held outdoors and socially distanced. 

“It’s been more than six months since visitation was fully restricted here at the facility and my staff and I look forward to seeing everyone once again,” Schenectady Center administrator Dave Singer said in a statement. “We also know how frustrating this has been for everyone but the bottom line is to keep everyone, residents, families and staff, safe from this horrible virus. The safety and health are first and foremost our top priority, like it’s always been.”

Susan Ryder, a Rotterdam Junction resident whose mother lives at the Center, said she still plans to push for in-person visits that permit touching and other hands-on activities, and on Saturday she rallied outside the Center to promote the essential caregiver concept. Before the pandemic, Ryder visited her mother daily, helping to feed her and tend to her personal hygiene, among other things. 

The socially-distanced visits are “a step,” she told me, adding, “It’s going to be incredibly difficult.”

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

 

 

 

 

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