More than 6,400 school-age residents in Nassau and Suffolk counties had tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, according to the latest lab reports compiled by the state Health Department. Those numbers are up 64% from the 3,920 residents ages 5-17 reported infected between Sept. 1 and Sept. 29.
State and local authorities alike have said in recent weeks that infection rates remain manageable in a region with a school population exceeding 400,000 students. Authorities at both levels have stepped up efforts to notify the public of the numbers of students, teachers and other school staffers affected.
However, the Hempstead district, which is the largest K-12 system in Nassau, came under fire recently for failing to report cases to Albany, as required by the state. The district’s superintendent, Regina Armstrong, told Newsday on Wednesday that COVID-19 data would be reported properly, starting this week.
Armstrong said 21 individuals in the district were infected last month, and that the system had been forced in one instance to send an entire class home for remote instruction for about 10 days. All other classes continued receiving in-school teaching five days a week, the superintendent said.
Hempstead did not start reporting cases to the state last month because it was preoccupied in dealing with the pandemic at the local level, Armstrong said.
“Our priority was focused on the students, on dealing with the anxieties of parents and on doing anything we could to make them comfortable,” she said in a phone interview. “We have had no transmissions of the disease within the district itself.”
Outside the school system, some civic leaders and residents complained they were not receiving adequate information about health hazards. In late September, several relatives of school staffers messaged Newsday of a teaching assistant at the district’s Jackson Main Elementary School who, they said, complained of feeling ill and was later sent home and tested positive, but not before spending several hours at the school.
Melissa Figueroa, a former Hempstead school board trustee, said she heard of the incident at Jackson Main, and that the incident illustrated a broader problem.
“Sadly, this is an ongoing issue in the Hempstead district,” said Figureroa, a civic activist who works on behalf of the district’s Latino community. “Hempstead is an epicenter of the pandemic, and the district needs to act so that parents have correct information in real time. We deserve to know the truth.”
Armstrong, asked about reported problems at Jackson Main, said, “This is the first I’m hearing of it.” She added that the district’s policy was to inform any parents of students in close contact with an infected person.
State health officials began requiring districts to report cases on its website in mid-September. Many districts started informing parents weeks earlier.
As might be expected, the largest number of infections have occurred in systems with the largest enrollments.
The William Floyd district, with a total enrollment of about 8,900, reported 314 cases among students, teachers and other staff as of Wednesday. That was up more than 140% over the 129 cases reported in late September.
“While the cases have been higher than we would like to start the school year, we have not seen significant in-school spread of COVID,” said James Montalto, a spokesman for William Floyd. “Our administrative staff continues to work hard on contact tracing seven days per week to ensure that anyone who may have been exposed is notified in a timely manner.”
Levittown, enrolling about 7,000 students, reported 88 cases as of Wednesday. That was a 40% increase over 63 cases reported last month. Superintendent Tonie McDonald said steps taken by the district to guard against infection included creation of new outdoor learning spaces at three schools.
McDonald, who also serves as president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, added that cases of infection had been traced to “activities outside our schools.”