Cortland school buildings are closing and beginning remote learning Wednesday, Superintendent Robert Edwards announced Tuesday afternoon, noting that the positive cases had so many potential contacts that hundreds of people could have to be quarantined.
It follows a similar announcement earlier this week of closing Homer Central High School and other Homer programs to in-person learning.
“Just a few moments ago, we were contacted by the Cortland County Health Department and updated about their current work,” Edwards wrote in an email. “We are actively supporting them in their contact tracing protocol. At this time, based in an abundance of caution and in the Health Department’s data and observations, we will be shifting to our Remote Learning for All model.”
One teacher tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Another teacher and two students were confirmed positive on Tuesday.
When the contact tracers asked for information on the students’ class schedules, staff lists and other potential contacts, the numbers added up fast, Edwards said.
“When we started to build that list for one kid, it is like 150 kids for a day. Then multiply that by three,” he said. “It can spiral pretty quickly.”
Edwards added that the latest cases were not connected to student teachers from SUNY Cortland, where more than 100 active cases in a two-week period pushed the campus last week into remote-only learning.
Distance learning will continue through Oct. 23 and those students who have been participating in the in-person model will return to it Oct. 26, Edwards said.
Closing the schools does help prevent people clustering, but it cannot prevent children — or other people — from gathering elsewhere. “The message remains that we are seeing community spread and advise against gatherings,” interim county Public Health Director Lisa Perfetti said in a release.
The move comes as Cortland County copes with its worst spike in coronavirus cases in the 7 1/2-month coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 80% of its 464 confirmed cases have come since Sept. 1; 24 of its 33 potential public exposures likewise have come in the past six weeks; and the county is coping with more than 140 active cases.
How effective closing schools would be in slowing the spread remains to be seen, Perfetti said. “Efforts to reduce the number of people gathered in one location remains an important step in reducing the spread,” she said.
The move follows the Homer Central School District, which moved its high school to remote-only learning this week after confirming three COVID-19 cases, Superintendent Thomas Turck announced.
The Homer district announced Monday that a staff member has tested positive, and a junior high school student on Tuesday.
The district was notified Friday that one of its high school students has tested positive for the virus.
The contact tracing found 13 staff members and 59 students who had sufficient contact to be quarantined at home. As a result, the high school was closed and students will be educated remotely this week.
That was expanded over the weekend to include Pre-K and BOCES CTE students for Tuesday only. Additionally, all Homer athletic practices and games are paused through Sunday. Students in kindergarten through grade 8 will follow their regular schedule this week.
The recent increase in cases — partly but not entirely attributed to an increase in cases among SUNY Cortland students — has increased the workload on the county’s contact tracers.
“We’ve had about 25 employees step up to the plate and offer their services to become contact tracers and help with the Health Department, so they don’t become overwhelmed any more than they already have been,” County Administrator Rob Corpora said Tuesday during his address on releasing the county’s proposed 2021 budget.
Still, contact tracing takes time. “Some people can easily answer where they have been and who they have been in contact with and some cases have more difficulty with that task,” Perfetti said. “We ask that people answer their phones when called, as having to make several phone calls and texts to get someone to call back can cause delays.”