Capital Region schools have been getting mixed messages from Albany County amid a state-high COVID-19 rate.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy on Saturday urged school districts throughout the county to start remote learning models following the holiday break to stop the spread of COVID-19. He walked back those comments by the end of the day and addressed the matter in his Monday morning briefing:
"I want to start by saying my office, the county department health and our local school districts, had a great working relationship before the pandemic and throughout. They've have been doing an incredible job to keep the students teachers and staff safe since the outbreak. Dr. Whalen and her team have worked with them to prevent infections at schools and identify COVID cases and working to address the situation. As I've said before, the county does not have the authority. The governor took that away from us. I cannot shut down schools. Dr. Whalen cannot shut down schools. All we can do is advise of how we see things going on. Unfortunately, I hate to say as we sat here for the last 10 months almost, making decisions on this, we've seen things that have happened with the curve, and usually after a school break, or Halloween or Thanksgiving and I could go on and on and on. We've seen an uptick in schools."
Albany County school superintendents virtually met with county representatives including Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen Saturday evening. This morning, Whalen said the conversation has been "getting some press" and she wanted to "set the record straight" about what went on during the call.
"Before the press conference on Saturday, I was reached out to, to ask whether it was a good idea to have a meeting with the school superintendents, in light of the fact that our rates of disease in Albany County were so high. And so that was the genesis of the meeting. And then, of course, you know, the, the meeting was, um... there were many more questions at the meeting after Saturday's press conference. And so we had a very long discussion. It was myself. Deputy County Executive Dan Lynch was on the call, and the superintendents. So I'm going to provide a summary of that, because I think that the idea that this is down to it's our decision, it's their decision. We don't want to make the decision they don't want to make it's not serving the public. It's not serving parents and it is not an accurate representation of what is a very complex consideration."
Whalen explained that she gave a summary of COVID cases and hospitalizations in the county and additional concerns about upticks after holidays.
"I made the additional point that schools were resuming with the realization that their students may have traveled and participated in family celebrations beyond their immediate families, which does represent additional currently unquantifiable risks for COVID transmission. I discussed what we are seeing, currently, in the K through 12 school population, and in particular, what we're seeing for the last week. All of this is available on the forward facing New York State Department of Health schools website and as a parent, if you want to go on that website, you can determine what the prevalence is in your particular school. We're currently, at the health department, seeing between 20 and 30 cases per day spread across many districts. This is reflective of the widespread disease transmission in the community. And again, for each of these cases, we have had individual conversations with the school districts, providing advice around isolation and quarantine."
Whalen says she was asked whether a directive on cluster recommendations would be forthcoming from the governor, and received feedback from the districts. She added that most COVID spread among students occurs outside of school. There were many additional concerns and considerations. Whalen affirmed schools and communities already know how they need to serve parents and children best. She added that guidelines and other information will be posted today on the county website.
Guilderland and North and South Colonie Central schools reopened for in-person learning today while Bethlehem Central Schools, the Albany City School District and The Albany Academies will be in remote learning all week.
The Albany City School district says on its website it was notified of 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the four-day New Year’s weekend. Six of the 10 cases involve individuals who have been engaged entirely in a distance learning environment, adding the Albany County Health Department has identified no additional contacts with any of the new cases.
Three cases are associated with Albany High School. Two of these individuals were last in the building Dec. 23 and are now quarantined at home. The third case involves an individual engaged in distance learning now also quarantined at home.
All of the districts all say they are carefully monitoring student and staff health and have procedures in place to deal with COVID cases as they occur.