COVID 'report cards' coming to schools, colleges

FILE - In this March 24, 2020 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York. The despair wrought on nursing homes by the coronavirus was laid bare Friday, April 17, in a state report identifying numerous New York facilities where multiple patients died over the past few weeks.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

ALBANY — In the aftermath of outbreaks of coronavirus infections at state colleges in Oneonta, Buffalo and Oswego, campuses throughout the state are now required to report pandemic data to the state Health Department once they reach 100 cases within a two-week span, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

And with many kindergarten through 12th grade students returning to classrooms, the state is mandating school districts to provide a daily report card on the percentage of students and staffers who have tested positive for the contagion.

The districts also face a requirement to identify the labs used in the testing as well as the lag time between the date tests were administered and the dates results were reported.

The initiatives are part of an effort to provide families, educators and others with a daily summary of how schools and campuses are faring in their efforts to contain the risks posed by the virus, Cuomo said.

The Cuomo administration found out last week how rapidly the infection can spread at an institution under its control when more than 600 students tested positive for COVID-19 within days of the reopening of the SUNY Oneonta campus. That college has since switched to online learning for the remainder of the semester.

Cuomo, speaking in New York City, said the state will now provide daily coronavirus "report cards" on each school district, using information the districts collect.

Parents, Cuomo said, "won't be reliant on information coming from the school district, principal or anyone else."

But Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, called the report card plan "clumsy and cumbersome," noting it has the potential to count infected people twice, since local county health departments won't be able to share the names of those who tested positive for the virus.

Additional complications are expected because about 25% of New York's school districts straddle county lines, Lowry added. Further, he noted, the guidance to school districts from the state does not require them to conduct testing in the absence of a need for it.

"There are a lot of complications with this and it does feel like it was just thrown together," Lowry said of the new state requirements.

Cuomo last month announced that school districts could reopen classrooms for traditional in-person learning. Some have opted to provide all courses online while others have embraced a hybrid approach, with students learning from home some days and attending physical classes on others, to reduce density.

Discussing ongoing infection clusters at several upstate campuses, Cuomo predicted some colleges may end up being compelled to close in-person classes.

With some students returning to campuses from "high risk" states and others focused on having parties, colleges "will continue to be a problem," he said.

Meanwhile, due to increases in positive virus test results, travelers coming to New York from Delaware, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia will now have to go into self-quarantine for 14 days. Adding those states and scratching Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the list left the total number of states and territories under New York's quarantine order at 35.

The state has been regularly refreshing the quarantine list after numerous states began to see upticks in infection rates in June, while New York, which initially led the nation in infections, saw a steady decline in hospitalizations.

New York reached an infection peak in April, when more than 18,000 people were getting hospital treatment for the infection in a single day. The latest statistics released Tuesday showed 445 New Yorkers were hospitalized for virus treatment, while test results showed the infection rate stood at 0.96%.

"The infection rate is a pure function of what New Yorkers are doing," Cuomo said.

An additional five COVID-19 deaths were reported by the Cuomo administration, bringing the fatality total by its count to 25,367.

However, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine lists New York as having had 33,002 deaths. Its tabulation includes presumed virus deaths tracked by New York City authorities.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com .

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