Classes at all public schools in Ulster, Dutchess and Orange counties were cancelled for two weeks after additional COVID-19 cases emerged in the region.
A fifth case in Ulster County – confirmed by county Executive Pat Ryan Friday afternoon – had a connection to a Kingston School.
“There was a direct connection – not on the student level, but on the family level – to the Kingston City School District, so per the state and city protocol (we) ordered an immediate closure today,” Ryan said Friday afternoon.
County Commissioner of Health and Mental Health Dr. Carol Smith said the new case was not connected to other cases in the county.
The county reported 4 cases prior to Friday. The first was a man living in Rochester who recently returned from France before the 14-day self-quarantine was mandated for Americans returning from the Schengen area of Europe, which includes France.
A second case – a Shawangunk resident with no history of overseas travel – was announced Wednesday. This case was unrelated to the first, according to Smith. Two more cases were announced Thursday, both connected to the previous cases.
The individual most recently diagnosed and their immediate family are under mandated quarantine, Smith said.
Ryan said the county had been preparing for cases.
“I do want people to know we feel ready given the preparations we did, and we do think [suspending classes] will significantly flatten the curve…of the growth of the virus,” he said.
“Flattening the curve” refers to the public health concept of slowing the spread of a disease once it has taken hold in order to spread out the rate of infections so health infrastructure is not overwhelmed.
The Shawangunk COVID-19 case also factored into the decision to close schools, Ryan said.
The day that case was announced, the Wallkill Central School District closed to disinfect after “an employee of a District contractor as well as a District student had been in close contact with an individual who was diagnosed with COVID-19,” according to a letter to parents from Superintendent Kevin Castle.
The school was shut for Thursday and Friday and now will remain closed for an additional two weeks.
Ulster BOCES District Superintendent Chuck Khoury said all the county superintendents supported the closure.
Dutchess County declared a state of emergency Friday and suspended all classroom and extracurricular activities for two weeks after two new COVID-19 cases were reported.
The state of emergency was “based on an increase of confirmed cases of Coronavirus/COVID-19 with three confirmed and an escalation of residents in mandatory and precautionary quarantine,” according to a county press release.
The county is also suspending large social and community gatherings, suspending visitation to the county jail, postponing civil service exams and closing the county Office for the Aging’s eight Senior Friendship Centers. The measures were all effective immediately.
“As Coronavirus has emerged as a pandemic, reaching countries on each hemisphere, we in Dutchess County have prepared for the inevitability we would be touched by this emerging health situation,” according to a statement by Dutchess County Executive Mark Molinaro.
“This declaration does not limit travel, but we urge residents to limit contact with those who are sick and stay home if sick,” according to Molinaro.
Orange County also declared a state of emergency Friday after their second and third reported cases.
As part of the declaration, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus recommended the suspension of all classroom and extracurricular activities starting Monday. Schools can remain open to administrators and staff and for staff functions, according to the announcement.
“After careful and serious discussion with Orange County’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Irina Gelman, and the County’s school superintendents, we feel that this is the most prudent course of action for our County schools. The intention is to protect our students, faculty and administration from contracting COVID-19, and to mitigate the spread of the virus,” according to Neuhaus.
Visitations at Orange County Jail were indefinitely suspended starting Monday, and civil service exams through the end of March were postponed.
All three counties told residents not to go directly to a doctor’s office or a hospital if they felt ill – this can spread the disease to other patients and healthcare workers – but to instead contact their healthcare provider, who is trained and who can direct the resident on what to do.
The counties also provided numbers for those with questions regarding COVID-19. They are:
Orange County Department of Health: 845-291-2330
Ulster County COVID-19 Hotline: 845-443-8888
Dutchess County COVID-19 Hotline: (845) 486-3555