DELMAR — Bethlehem Central joined school administrators from across the region by informing their respective district families of their intent to resume in-person instruction this week amid a rising number of new COVID cases in Albany County.
“The district’s plan is to return to in-person instruction on Monday, Jan. 3,” Bethlehem Central Superintendent Jody Monroe shared with district families. “Please be assured that we remain committed to keeping the health and safety of students and staff at the forefront of all decision-making.”
Monroe’s online statement was distributed 24 hours before Albany County reported a record 1,003 new COVID infections from the previous day. Between Dec. 24 and Dec. 30, the school district learned of 29 COVID cases.
“With the Omicron variant increasing the number of COVID positive cases in the school district and in the community, there are several updates I want to share regarding our mitigation efforts and reporting of cases,” she said.
Bethlehem Central has said it was attempting to obtain more rapid COVID-19 test kits for students. Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that tests will be sent to all school districts for distribution following the winter break. Monroe said her administrative and health teams are working on a plan for the distribution and use of these testing kits and on a system whereby results can be reported.
The district is accepting negative COVID test results on either a rapid test or PCR test for students showing symptoms to return to school. The superintendent stressed that symptomatic students must be well enough to participate in school and that families need to communicate directly with their child’s school nurse prior to their child’s return to school to ensure their student meets all state requirements.
As of Sunday, area administrators said they had yet to change their quarantine guidelines following the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations for shorter isolation periods announced Monday, Dec. 26. The health agency now suggests that people with COVID-19 should isolate for five days if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are “resolving without [a] fever for 24 hours. The quarantine would then be followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others.
Monroe said schools would continue to use the county Health Department’s protocols as they waited to learn for any updates.
The rising number of infections is forcing Bethlehem administrators to change how it reports cases within the district. Instead of providing the public with daily updates, Monroe said the district will now include only weekly updates at the end of the week. The reports will include the number of cases at each school, along with the number of close contacts identified as a result of contact tracing at school. These will include whether contact was made on the school bus or at school-related activities.
“The relatively low number of close contacts that are identified when the school district conducts contact tracing is due to the diligence of our staff and students in their consistent use of mitigation measures such as proper mask-wearing and maintaining an appropriate physical distance,” Monroe said. “As a result, we have had few identified close contacts in most of these reported cases.”