Hundreds of Hudson Valley kids quarantined at home in abundance of Covid caution

Kids as young as five years old are now able to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Pictured is Neal Smoller of Village Apothecary in Woodstock preparing to administer a shot.

Local school districts are continuing to keep an eye on COVID-19, with positive cases rising in Ulster County and concerns of the Omicron variant and further spread during the holidays. But they also caution that protocols are working in schools, and the amount of cases among students since the start of the academic year are still relatively low, with a few noting that it’s believed most of the spread happens outside of school. 

The Kingston City School District has had a total of 167 students test positive since the beginning of the school year, along with 22 teachers and 22 other staff members. Superintendent Paul Padalino noted that the district has a total of 6301 students across its schools. 

Advertisement

“I think it’s affirming our protocols,” Padalino said. “I’ve got 2000 kids running around Kingston High School, 1100 kids in Bailey, 1000 kids in Miller, and our average elementary school is about 300. To have (167) only district-wide, we feel good about our protocols and how they’re working.”

Padalino said the district was correct in anticipating a jump in cases after Halloween, and will likely see numbers rise connected to Thanksgiving, and will probably see another in the two weeks after Christmas. But there is also hope that with COVID vaccines now available to kids as young as five years old, transmission and serious illness will be further minimized. 

“We’re going to continue to promote the vaccination as much as we can and let people know about it without getting into that political thing, and we’ve seen at the secondary level anecdotal reports that we’re seeing pretty good numbers getting the vaccination. We’re excited, and we hope kids five through 11 will do the same.”

Padalino said kids ages 5-11 being able to get the vaccine is significant. “I think one of the things that could change the dynamic for us is if you’re vaccinated and asymptomatic, you don’t have to quarantine,” he said. “So if we have a positive classic case in the class, I don’t have to knock out six to eight kids in a classroom because they interacted in gym or music or something like that if the students are vaccinated.”

Padalino said it’s too soon to consider a tipping point where schools would go fully remote again, though it’s happened with individual classrooms before. “I think we will just continue to monitor the spread within the community and within our schools,” he said. “We’ve had to go remote in a couple of classrooms, and I think we’ll continue in that way instead of like a full-on shutdown of the district into a remote program. We’re not seeing giant outbreaks in any one place, and just the importance of having kids in school is great.”

In the fall sports season, the KCSD had just two games canceled due to COVID, which Padalino said is remarkable given how many sports are played in the varsity, junior varsity and modified levels. But with the winter sports season just underway, most games will be played indoors. 

“We’re sticking with our mask mandate,” Padalino said. “All people who are attending our sporting events have to wear masks. And we’re scanning in all of our students with their IDs as they come in, so we have contact tracing capabilities.”

Saugerties

Saugerties has a student population of 2399, with 113 testing positive for COVID since the start of the school year. Seven teachers and 18 staff members have also tested positive. 

“So far I’m really proud of the staff and the students and their families for what we’ve done and that we’ve been able to stay open, knock on wood,” said Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt. “It’s almost the winter break and we’ve been pretty lucky and pretty fortunate. I feel good about what we’re doing. I feel good about the plan we have in place. And once again, that goes down to our staff and our students doing the right thing.”

Reinhardt said the district hasn’t had to change any of its protocols during the first few months of school, though he added that with winter coming to the Hudson Valley they will have to stay flexible.  “We’re definitely going to watch the numbers now as more activities start to take place inside,” Reinhardt said. “We’ve been very fortunate with the weather with kids being able to go outside right after they eat. But now we’re starting winter sports and more activities will be inside. So we’re just going to be even more diligent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing all of our practices with more kids in the building for longer periods of time.”

Reinhardt said he was encouraged by the number of students being vaccinated against COVID. 

“I think for those families that choose if that’s what’s best for them, that’s wonderful,” he said. “I mean, if we can keep students safe, we can keep students in school, I’m thrilled with that. The last thing a lot of us want to do is go back with students sitting at home. So if it means students are healthier and safer, it’s a wonderful thing.” 

Reinhardt said he didn’t anticipate a return to fully remote learning. “If we can safely be open as far as having staff and students, then we will stay open,” he said. “New York State itself has a fairly large number that are vaccinated. We believe our students are safer in school, and most transmissions are not coming in school yet.”

Reinhardt said the district’s protocols for spectators at events will be rigidly upheld, especially as most activities, like sports, move indoors. “It’s a lot different than fall sports where people could stand outside, spread out, watch the soccer game,” he said. “It’s definitely a concern and we’re going to do everything we can. Everybody has to be masked any time the building is open, even when the academic day is over.”

New Paltz

New Paltz has seen the fewest number of infections among local school districts. With a student population of 1898, just 14 students have tested positive since the start of the school year, along with three teachers and three other staff members. 

“It appears that our protocols are working,” said Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina, adding that it’s not over yet. “This has been a long challenging period. We have seen more activity since shortly after Halloween…We are grateful for the lower instances, but the game is far from over.”

Advertisement

Urbina-Medina said that as vaccination rates rise among students, quarantining will be minimal. “Vaccinated students will not have to quarantine provided that they are asymptomatic,” she said. “As the numbers of those who are fully vaccinated increase, we will have fewer students who will need to quarantine.” Urbina-Medina said vaccines being available to kids as young as five years old is a “huge relief.” 

“As a parent, I was very emotional watching my kids get their vaccination,” she said. “As an educator and district leader, it is another layer of protection for our kids.”

Urbina-Medina said the district is preparing for the possibility of a rise in positive cases in the coming months.  “We are looking at putting in place plans for possible situations that we may encounter this winter,” she said. “Going fully remote would be a last resort and would likely have to be part of a countywide shutdown.” 

Onteora 

The Onteora School District has had 40 students test positive since the start of the academic year, along with seven teachers and five other staff members. Its total student population is 1225. 

“As we look at our the actual number of students that have tested positive, it reinforces that the mitigation strategies that we have in place since the start of this school year are working,” said Superintendent Marystephanie Corsones. “On a relative basis, we have had very few students test positive…We monitor our numbers on a daily basis and are constantly assessing our protocols to ascertain if they need to be modified. We also are continually assessing the students supports that we have in place for students who are out sick — or are on quarantine — to ensure a continuity of learning for our students while keeping them safe.”

Corsones said the district’s relative success in keeping COVID at bay should be helped by the availability of the vaccine for young students. “To date we have had very few elementary aged students test positive,” Corsones said. “We are hoping that by having these students vaccinated, it will decrease the number of students who are required to quarantine if they are in direct contact with an individual who tests positive.”

Corsones said that the district will continue moving forward with care and caution, and hopes to avoid a return to remote learning. 

 “As you are aware, there is no longer a required County defined metric for going remote,” she said. “It will be determined by actual facts and circumstances of the situation. We have learned from last year’s experience and we are ready should remote instruction be necessary.”

Corsones said that the district will also continue monitoring community spread to ensure its sports and other extracurricular activities can take place safely. “We will continue to partner with Section IX to address any winter sports season concerns, protocols and practices,” she said. “Our goal is to provide the most enrichment experiences for our students while maintaining a safe environment. We are listening to our community and assessing the situation and will make adjustments or modifications as deemed necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.”