Utica, N.Y. - Now that the school year is underway, parents in our area are receiving letters from local school districts whenever there is a positive Covid case in their child's school.
So, just how many cases are there, and should parents be concerned?
We looked into this on Friday.
The New York State Department of Health has what it calls the Covid-19 Report Card on its website which shows each day, by school district, how many cases have been reported.
Right now the state's Covid-19 Report Card is, "currently being updated".
We learned on Friday from the state that it should be up and working by September 27th at the latest.
In the meantime, we have to get that information from each individual district.
We checked in with three districts in the Utica area on Friday, Utica, Whitesboro and New Hartford.
Utica currently has 25 students and 5 staff members who have tested positive.
Whitesboro has 25 students and 8 staff members who have tested positive.
New Hartford has a total of 17 positive cases but didn't break down the numbers between students and staff.
These numbers are all reported to the Oneida County Health Department as well as the state.
Oneida County Health Director Dr. Dan Gilmore says the county is closely monitoring the numbers, "There was an expectation that there would be some cases, however it’s being managed very well this year on both ends from the school perspective and from the health department perspective."
Gilmore says there are protocols in place to make sure that any students or staff who are found to have been 'close contacts' to a student or staff member that tested positive will then quarantine for 10 days themselves, "During the interview process we determine if some students were in close enough proximity to a case to become quarantined."
Dr. Gilmore says the county determines close contacts by the CDC guidelines, "The Centers for Disease Control developed guidance that’s been adopted by the New York State Health Department, which in turn has been adopted by the Oneida County Health Department."
In Utica there are a total of 47 students and staff quarantined.
In New Hartford there are 44 quarantined.
In Whitesboro, 94 quarantined.
Whitesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Bellair says many of those close contact cases resulting in quarantining are from during lunch period when kids don't have their masks on while they're eating, "That is one of the areas where the contacts could occur because when the students are eating they're unmasked. If they're in the classroom, as long as their masked, as long as the student is masked and the student who was infected is also masked, there would be no need for a quarantine. That would be considered a low risk self monitoring situation but obviously in the cafeteria where students are unmasked there's a greater chance that there will be a higher risk of exposure which is why in the cafeterias we're trying to do the best to mitigate those situations. We have our students eating distanced, we stagger our lunches so that students aren't in there with larger crowds, so we're trying to take that layered approach to mitigation in all of those areas."
Students who test positive or have been deemed close contacts and have to quarantine can then take part in their classes remotely.
Utica Schools Director of Curriculum & Instruction Steven Falchi says there have actually been a couple of entire classes in Utica that have had to be quarantined and those students have also been learning remotely, "Right now if an entire class is quarantined, and we have had a couple of occasions where entire class has had to be quarantined for a couple days, those kids are sent home with Chrome Books and the teacher does conduct remote learning under the circumstances."
But what about parents of kids who aren't quarantining, who may not want to send their kids to school because of the positive cases reported? Right now those kids do not have the option to go remote, they would be treated as a normal absence and have to get class work assignments, just like if they were out sick for a day.
Dr. Bellair says that could change, "We do realize that there are evolving conditions that may require adaptations to what we're doing right now, so as our numbers change we will certainly look at what we need to do in response to that. Hopefully we don't see the continued growth that we're seeing now but obviously if we do it we have to make some adjustments."
Steven Falchi in Utica and Dr. Brian Bellair in Whitesboro both say the positive cases among students is about evenly divided between elementary school students, middle school students and high school students.
Dr. Bellair says there has been one severe case so far, "We did have one case where a high school student was actually hospitalized due to Covid. Fortunately the student has since recovered and has been discharged. But that is one case where we know of it which has been certainly more extreme than the others."
Dr. Bellair says every case is a concern, but he is concerned, not only about the cases in the school districts, but the overall cases throughout the county, "When we compare today to the same date last year (in the county) the numbers are really quite a bit higher. There were 81 cases a year ago today, and today they are over 840 cases."
He went on to say, "One of the questions that we're getting fairly often is, do we think at some point, do we think that we will need to be fully remote? And we're hopeful the answer is no. We've also been asked are we prepared to do so? And we are."
Also, as of right now, the Utica City School District notifies parents of a positive case in their child's school through the mail, but starting this coming Monday, September 20th, Utica will be sending out an automated phone message to parents.
Finally, Dr. Gilmore says the county continues to urge people to get vaccinated, "Anybody that’s eligible to be vaccinated, students over 12, teachers, staff, faculty, should look at becoming vaccinated at the earliest opportunity. That’s really one thing that’s needed to help reduce the number of new cases coming up and to help put an end to this pandemic. It's very important to be vaccinated."