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More than 500 Covid-19 cases in schools in Erie, Niagara counties

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Covid-19 precautions remain (copy) (copy)

A sign reminds students to take precautions against the spread of Covid-19 on the first day of class at Frederick Law Olmsted School. 

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Erie and Niagara county public school districts reported more than 500 students, teachers and staff have tested positive for Covid-19 less than a month into the new school year.

The New York State Covid-19 Report Card dashboard went live Monday for the first time this school year.

Public, private and charter schools have been making daily reports to the state Health Department on the number of positive cases since Oct. 13, but the reports were not visible on the state website until Monday because it was being updated.

There were 517 cases reported as of Friday: 443 students, 37 teachers and 37 staff members.

About 149,000 students attend schools in grades kindergarten through 12 in the two counties.

While they are reporting cases in students, teachers and staff, school administrators said there seems to be very little transmission of the coronavirus in school, and most appear to be contracting the illness outside of school.

Many parents did not need to take a look at the dashboard for their school, with schools reporting Covid-19 cases to the community. The cases resulted in hundreds of quarantined students.

West Seneca Central reported 49 cases, Starpoint Central had 33; Lockport, 35; Williamsville Central, 30; Lake Shore, 29; and Akron Central, 27.

In the five counties of Western New York, which also includes Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, 890 cases were reported in public, private and charter schools. That includes 80 in private or charter schools.

The number of cases surprised some school leaders, who were looking forward to having all their students back in school full-time this year. 

Springville-Griffith had three cases in the sixth grade last week, ultimately resulting in the quarantine of 26 students. Last year, the district did not record any Covid-19 cases until January.

"Our goal is just to keep kids in school five days a week," Springville Superintendent Kimberly Moritz said.

Erie County relaxed its quarantine requirements last week and adopted the guidance of the state Health Department for schools, which school administrators hope will result in fewer quarantines. The county also announced on Monday it will resume two in-school Covid testing programs. One will test a random sample of students and staff weekly as a preemptive measure; the other will provide free PCR tests with a one-day turnaround time to anyone exposed to a known Covid-19 case. The tests will be administered three to five days after a known exposure. 

Still, the number of cases show what is occurring throughout the country since the Delta variant took off: an increase in the number of children testing positive.

For each of the past five weeks, the number of children testing positive in the United States was more than 200,000, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group's weekly report Monday also said since the beginning of the pandemic, children accounted for 16% of the cases, but in the week ending Thursday, nearly 27% of the cases were in children.

But the academy said, "At this time, it appears that severe illness due to Covid-19 is uncommon among children."  

Cases are being reported in schools throughout New York with a number of quarantines, but so far, there have not been mass closings of school buildings.

"I don't have a sense a lot of schools are going to fully remote," said Robert N. Lowry Jr., deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "It's hard to compare to a year ago because a year ago we had so many schools in either full remote or hybrid."

School leaders are concerned that already short-staffed positions, such as bus drivers, bus and classroom aides, cafeteria workers and custodians could be affected by quarantines with few substitutes available. 

The staffing shortage is "ominous" and could create a scenario where a district is not able to operate a school, Lowry said.


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"Right now, we are busy collecting information to make sure that if we do decide to impart on a test-to-stay that we will have the best plan possible," said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.

Twenty-one months after schools first shut their doors for what was hoped would only be a few weeks, parents are shuddering that the unthinkable might again happen: That schools might be shut down for weeks at a time.

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