New York News

Red and Orange Zone Schools Must Have Mass COVID-19 Testing, Prior to Reopening, Governor Says

Ashlyn Sellers prays with her fellow fourth-grade students at St. Matthew School in Franklin, Tenn., Aug. 6, 2020, as the new school year begins with extensive COVID-19 protocols in place, including temperature screening and face mask requirements. (Photo:CNS/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register)

WINDSOR TERRACE — On Oct. 30, Governor Andrew Cuomo released new guidelines for schools in red and orange zones that would allow them to reopen for in-person learning. The guidelines state that mandatory mass testing in schools must be conducted before they can reopen, followed by daily symptom and exposure screenings.

“The schools, private schools, Catholic schools, yeshivas, want to be open in the red and orange zones, and we’ve been working with them to try to find ways to keep people safe but allow children to go to school,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We have agreed with them on a protocol that keeps people safe and allows children to be educated.”

When Can Impacted Schools Reopen?

Schools must remain physically closed for at least four calendar days after the zone designation is announced and can re-open for classes as early as the fifth calendar day. Students, faculty, and staff can return to the building once they test negative for COVID-19.

Those who test positive for COVID-19, or have been in close contact with someone who is positive or shows symptoms, are not permitted on school grounds. Additionally, a test result must be no more than seven days old upon the day in-person learning begins again.

What Happens Next?

Once these steps are taken, schools in the orange and red zones may physically reopen. Thereafter, 25% of the school community — including students, faculty, and staff — must be randomly tested weekly. Gov. Cuomo’s mandate also states that each week’s 25% sampling must be composed of those who haven’t previously been tested for surveillance screening. Individuals who participated in the first week of testing, for example, should be tested again by the fifth week of testing. Other daily screenings, including temperature checks and questionnaires, will continue to take place prior to entering the building.

These schools will either provide opportunities to test on school grounds or will otherwise facilitate testing and accept test results from healthcare providers. The Department of Health will provide free rapid test kits to schools who make the request. In that scenario, the schools must provide certified personnel to conduct the tests, and all results must be entered into the Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System and be reported to the online NYS COVID-19 Report Card.

When Closures Could Happen Again

Schools that cannot meet these new reopening requirements must continue with remote learning for the duration of the zone designation. If a weekly random sampling generates at least nine positive cases — or if a sample size of more than 300 weekly tests achieves a positivity rate of 2% (six cases or more depending on size) in the city — schools have to close and transition to remote learning again.

As of Nov. 2, the NYC Department of Education was continuing to review the state’s proposal. Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters during a press briefing that a decision for reopening would be made within the next few days.

Affected Schools in the Diocese

Gov. Cuomo’s hotspot directive, which was first announced on Oct. 5, closed 124 schools across the city. Six red zone schools have been closed in the Diocese of Brooklyn since Oct. 6: Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, Good Shepherd Catholic Academy, Midwood Catholic Academy, St. Athanasius Catholic Academy, St. Edmund School, and St. Edmund Preparatory High School.

The Diocese of Brooklyn released the following statement on Oct. 30: “Governor Cuomo’s announcement this afternoon provides the framework for a safe return to in-person learning in six of our Catholic schools and academies. The Diocese of Brooklyn and the Superintendent of Schools have already begun making the necessary arrangements to offer testing to our students, faculty, and staff to meet these benchmarks and get our school buildings open as quickly as possible.”

These Catholic schools are currently working on testing plans and have not yet announced reopening plans, as of the late morning of Nov. 2. The diocese has asked the city and state for funding to administer the tests but no decision has been reached so far.

Editor’s Note: This story will be updated.