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Westchester County Exec Discusses Church COVID Cases, School Reopening

Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Courtesy of the Office of Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Westchester County Executive George Latimer

The Westchester County executive says there have been no coronavirus spikes so far after two priests at a Pleasantville church tested positive for COVID-19. And he says school reopening will be the biggest logistical challenge since the pandemic hit.

Two priests and a staff member at Holy Innocents Catholic Church in Pleasantville tested positive for COVID-19. Since learning of the cases late last week, Westchester County officials have been advising parishioners who attended morning mass August 24 and/or 26, First Communion ceremonies August 29 and all masses August 29 and 30 to quarantine for 14 days. Democratic County Executive George Latimer says COVID testing thus far bodes well.

“Right now, we have tested, over the weekend, 205 of the individuals that we believe were present for one of those masses, there’s also a holy Communion, a first holy Communion event, and, of all the test results that have come back — about half of the 205 results have come back — everyone has been negative,” says Latimer.

Latimer says of all the phased reopenings during COVID-19, the start of the school year is the toughest.

“The school system, to this point, is the most complicated, fraught with concern opening that we have, first of all, because we have multiple buildings that are under the control of each school district. There are 44 school districts in Westchester County,” Latimer says. “Yonkers has 27.000 school children. New Rochelle has 11,000 school children.”

Some districts will begin the school year with remote learning, others have a hybrid plan in place combining remote and in-person.

“And I’ve made the analogy more than once that opening schools is just like starting the Major League Baseball season. We open it up, we have protections in place and now we’ll see how it operates, and, hopefully, it’ll go well,” Latimer says. “And if anything goes poorly, we’re going to have to be prepared to shut it down. Those decisions will be made, ultimately, on the basis of public health.”

Latimer laid out the county’s responsibilities for school reopening, pertaining to public health and assisting with child care. He says Westchester is involved with the schools in contact tracing. And the county is prepared to provide a base supply of PPE, or personal protective equipment.

“Also, we have been helpful in trying to fit key workers with N95 masks,” says Latimer.

With pre-K options limited during the pandemic, Latimer says parents are looking for ways to keep their children busy. So the county is offering nature-based early-learning programs at nature centers in North White Plains, Yonkers and Cross River.

“And if you are a parent of a pre-school child, this is a helpful thing, particularly if you have other children in the house and you’re trying to juggle how they’re going to work, this is an opportunity for them to at least have a couple of hours a day 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. in most cases,” says Latimer. “Lenoir’s program is in the afternoons, 3:30-5:30. They have some targeted times and targeted grades.”

The tuition-based programs can accommodate eight children per session and will operate outdoors so will close on inclement weather days.

In mid-August, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that gyms and fitness centers could reopen starting August 24 at 33 percent capacity and with COVID protocols in place. Local elected officials had the choice of delaying this reopening until September 2 to, in part, provide time for required local health department inspections.

“All of the inspections have been completed,” Latimer says. “Over 90 of them have gotten the official signoff from the material that’s been submitted, and the remaining group, slightly over 100, have completed the inspection but they’re waiting to get the signoff on their plan.”

As for COVID-19 statistics, Latimer says there are 572 active cases, and the county has gone nine days without a COVID-related death.

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