by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent

As we prepare for the holiday season, I ask for your help in making sure everyone celebrates and observes this year’s activities in a different way that puts health and safety first. We need to continue to find ways that prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our school communities and homes.

Since March, families across our region and state have worked together to contain the virus, which has allowed us to reopen our schools and economy. You have all made great sacrifices and changed your behaviors. While cases have inevitably occurred due to the widespread reach of this illness, I am proud of our collaboration with our local school districts, county health departments, and the larger community.

Data shows that we can work together to contain the spread and keep our schools and businesses open. Since reopening our schools in September, there have been a total of nine COVID cases among 6,700 public school students in Columbia County and a total of three COVID cases among 5,000 students in Cairo-Durham, Catskill, Coxsackie-Athens and Greenville (as of October 31). This infection rate of 0.09 percent demonstrates that our safety measures are working.

As the holiday season approaches, we need to find alternate ways of celebrating that will not increase the risk of infection. The CDC has suggested we consider the following factors when planning or attending holiday gatherings:

  • Community levels of COVID – Are you traveling to a high positivity state or area? Families should consider what is happening locally before they host or travel to an event. Gatherings that include those from high positivity areas pose a higher risk. Please visit the State Department Health website for the new guidelines that apply to all states except those bordering New York State.
  • Location – Is it indoors or in a place with poor ventilation? Indoor gatherings pose more risk.
  • Duration – How long is the gathering? Longer duration events pose more risk.
  • Number of attendees – How many people are attending? While the CDC does not place a limit or recommend a specific number for gatherings, families should base activities on their ability to limit contact in accordance with state regulations.
  • Behaviors of attendees before and during the gathering – Gatherings where people do not wear masks, practice distancing, and wash their hands pose more risks.

It is important that we remain connected during the pandemic; however, we must do so in a safe way for families. What happens in the community impacts our schools.

It is also important that we continue to work with our local health departments as positive cases are identified. Contact tracing is a simple, confidential process used by the health department to trace all persons who had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Please answer the phone if you receive a call from “NYS Contact Tracing” or the district. We encourage you to offer your full cooperation by listening, asking questions, providing the names of all individuals and any activities you or your child may have participated in. Providing as much information as possible allows public health officials to put in place isolation or other measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Please note that if you are not contacted about a positive case in your area then there is no further action needed.

Please continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing, wash your hands, avoid mass gatherings and travel to high positivity areas, and stay home if you or your child is  sick. As you may know, the state imposed new restrictions in several downstate clusters, including the closing of schools and non-essential businesses, in response to a surge of new cases. We do not want to see this happen locally.

We are proud of the way our students, staff and families have conducted themselves throughout these difficult times. However, as cases and hospitalizations increase across the country, it is important to remain vigilant. Ultimately, how well we follow the safety protocols individually and collectively will determine whether we can continue to keep our schools open. Thank you for your continued cooperation. Happy holidays!

This column appeared in the November 10, 2020 edition of the Register Star/Daily Mail newspaper. 

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