COVID Cases Increase 200 Percent in Local Schools After Holiday

Members of the Westhampton Beach School Board meeting earlier this month.

The Hampton Bays and East Hampton school districts surpassed 100 positive COVID-19 cases in a holiday-break surge.

While other, usually smaller, East End districts have not seen nearly as many cases in total, almost all reported a nearly or more than 200-percent increase in cases in the past two weeks over cases recorded during the beginning of the school year up to the holiday season.

Westhampton Beach High School saw the highest number of novel coronavirus cases from December 29 through Tuesday, January 12, with 21 new cases, to bring the total number of cases in that school alone up to 53 since September, according to the state COVID report card database. Twenty students and one staff member tested positive over the two-week span.

East Hampton High School followed close behind with 14 students and four faculty members testing positive from December 29 through Monday, January 11, to bring its total to 54 since the start of the school year. As of Tuesday, the district as a whole was up to 101 positive cases of students and staff on and off-site. Superintendent Richard Burns decided to close schools to in-person instruction as a result of the upswing. There were eight new student and four faculty member cases reported at John M. Marshall Elementary School in the last two weeks, to bring the total at that school to 33 since the start of the school year, and nine students and one faculty member at the middle school, to bring the total there up to 14.

Prior to the break, 290 students and staff were tested through a partnership with the Suffolk County Department of Health, and zero cases were discovered, Mr. Burns said during a recent Board of Education meeting.

“We’re very concerned at this point,” Mr. Burns said. “We just need a partnership, again, with the community. Social gatherings with family was a big concern.”

The district did put in place a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any individuals who traveled or gathered during the break, regardless of state guidelines that demand a 10-day quarantine for those who have traveled outside of states contiguous to New York. Travelers can test out of that quarantine, per state guidelines, by obtaining a negative COVID-19 test within three days of traveling back to the state and a second negative test after three days of quarantine after returning to New York. However, some districts are opting to ask for more stringent quarantine requirements in an abundance of caution.

The Hampton Bays School District, with 105 cases reported in total by Tuesday, January 12, had reported 39 new cases — eight students and two staff members at the elementary school, eight students and five faculty members at the middle school, and 11 students and five staff members at the high school. The district did not close by choice, but had to do so temporarily since returning from the holiday break because there were not enough staff members available to support in-person learning. This was a result of quarantining due to close contact.

“As expected, we are experiencing a surge of positive cases that developed over the holiday break. The data, though, draws the same conclusion — that schools continue to be a safe place to be because of the safety precautions in place, including cleaning and sanitizing, face coverings and social distancing,” Superintendent Lars Clemensen said in an interview this week. “With the vaccination plan now underway, I am hopeful that we can begin to move past the holiday surge in cases and the overall COVID-19 pandemic as we look ahead to the spring.”

As of Tuesday, the Westhampton Beach School District was up to 99 positive cases district-wide since reopening in the fall, and has also not yet opted to close schools. Eight new student and five staff member positives were reported at the elementary school in the last two weeks, and 10 students and two faculty members at the middle school tested positive, to bring totals to 23 and 20, respectively, since September.

“The health and safety of our students and staff is our foremost priority. Public health experts generally agree that schools are safe places for students and staff,” Westhampton Beach Superintendent Michael Radday said in an interview this week. “We will continue to follow health and safety protocols to minimize the transmission of the virus and to ensure we can continue in-person learning to the greatest extent possible. The next few weeks will be critical as we try to keep COVID-19 from spreading within our schools and community.”

At the Amagansett School, two student cases were reported in the last 14 days, for a total of six school-wide, which includes one faculty member, since the school year began; the Bridgehampton School saw six students and four staff members, for 22 total; and the Montauk School reported one student and one faculty member, to make 16 total.

Sag Harbor reported zero student cases at the elementary and middle/high school — two staff members at the middle/high school tested positive — but took early precautions to close in-person learning before returning from the holiday break, at least for the first week back. The district had reported 16 total cases since September, as of January 12.

“The Suffolk County COVID test positive rate has risen dramatically over the last few weeks,” Superintendent Jeff Nichols said in a message to the school community. “This proactive measure will better position our schools to reopen for in-person instruction in the near future.”

Southampton, up to 64 total cases since school opening, informed district members on Tuesday that 10 students and nine staff members at the elementary school had tested positive in the last two weeks, eight students at the intermediate school and eight students and five faculty members at the high school. The totals in each building are up to 23, 17 and 24, respectively.

Springs School reported five new student and two faculty member positives since December 29, and was up to 24 cases total between September and Tuesday, January 12.

“The problem that we’re having is receiving testing information. We don’t always know if someone gets tested or the result of that test, so I think it would benefit the Springs School community as a whole to voluntarily test staff and students,” Superintendent Debra Winter said, adding she is looking to enter the district into the partnership with Suffolk County, as more than 20 percent of parents surveyed said they would volunteer have their children tested. “We are being as proactive as we can, our nurses are being as proactive as they can be and our parents are really following the rules.”