How Stuyvesant Regulates COVID-19 Cases
Issue 6, Volume 112
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Stuyvesant has continued to navigate the process of handling and isolating COVID-19 exposure to keep the school community as safe as possible. Currently, Stuyvesant has reported eight positive cases of COVID-19: five have been students while three are staff members.
Stuyvesant’s administration announces positive cases to the school community after receiving the official notification from the New York City Department of Education (DOE) Situation Room, the COVID-19 response agency responsible for confirming COVID-19 cases and tracing close contacts. According to DOE protocol, the school calls the Situation Room when a student or a staff member personally tells the administration he or she has tested positive.
Close contacts are also notified. The DOE considers anyone within three feet of an individual with COVID-19 unmasked for longer than 10 minutes, regardless of their vaccination status, a close contact. The process of confirming a COVID-19 case and identifying all close contacts can take up to several hours for the Situation Room to communicate, meaning that an official notification from the school may come much later than an individual's announcement that they tested positive.
The school is not allowed to otherwise alert the community of COVID-19 exposure until the DOE confirms the information. “Some people may believe, ‘I know somebody has COVID-19 and nobody told me.’ That’s actually not happening. We are waiting for the official notification and that involves a positive test by a doctor and official letters from the Situation Room,” Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram said.
The Stuyvesant administration disseminates information about positive cases and close contacts within a school through e-mail. The first notification is sent to the entire school community to inform the staff and students and families that there is such a case in the community. Identified close contacts receive additional e-mails on next steps.
There are multiple variations of letters depending on the situation and the recipient’s proximity to the positive case. “There is a letter for if a student tested positive, then every class that the student’s in, the members of the class, the parents and guardians of the students in the class, would all get letters that state to them, ‘There’s been a case and all close contacts have been quarantined,’” Ingram said.
The protocol for a positive COVID-19 case is standard regardless of whether an individual tested positive while in the Stuyvesant building or elsewhere. At Stuyvesant and other public schools, 10 percent of unvaccinated students who have parental consent are randomly selected each week to be tested for COVID-19. Students can submit proof of vaccination at the DOE COVID-19 Vaccination Portal, which the DOE uses to select individuals for random testing. Parents and guardians may also use the portal to indicate consent for their child to be tested at school. Currently, over 95 percent of Stuyvesant students and 100 percent of staff at Stuyvesant have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The administration is working on conveying information to the community with more efficiency and coherence due to confusion surrounding when it is necessary for students to quarantine. “We’ve changed the way that we communicate. We [...] cut and paste the letter in the e-mail [and add an introduction with clarification] to preface that this is just a notification that your student was in the same classroom you are not a close contact, so we are trying to make things extremely explicit and clear for everyone,” Ingram said.
After an individual is confirmed to have been tested positive for COVID-19, he or she will speak to Assistant Principal of Security, Health, and Physical Education Brian Moran about classes and possible close contacts. This information is then forwarded to the Situation Room, which will trace the potential network of close contacts.
Individuals who tested positive and unvaccinated close contacts will self-isolate at home for at least 10 days. Quarantined teachers administer asynchronous instruction so that their students can still complete assignments. Fully vaccinated students identified as close contacts do not have to quarantine as long as they remain symptom-free. Examples of common COVID-19 symptoms include fever and chills, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of smell or taste. Close contacts who are fully vaccinated and choose to not quarantine are still encouraged to take a COVID-19 test after their exposure.
Students who test positive are entitled to continue their schoolwork, which requires organization between the administration and teachers to provide both asynchronous and synchronous instruction. “Once I notify all of those people whether they are close contacts or not, classmates or teachers, [Assistant Principal, Teacher Support & Development and Data Systems Lead and biology teacher Marianne] Prabhu gets a list of the teachers who teach the student that actually has COVID-19,” Ingram said. “She contacts them [...] to follow up and provide continued instruction for the length of their quarantine.”
Students and staff who tested positive are allowed to return to in-person school after they have not had a fever for 24 hours, when COVID-19 symptoms have improved, and after submitting a negative COVID-19 test. Close contacts who receive a negative COVID-19 test after quarantining can return to school.
Due to the lengthy process of confirming an individual’s COVID-19 positive status, close contacts are often notified several hours after a case is confirmed, though a few students have reported not receiving the e-mail directly in their inboxes. “There was an e-mail being sent directly to my parents, [but] there was nothing sent directly to my e-mail, so I was notified [about being a close contact] by my parents,” senior Ethan Andrews said. Andrews, a fully vaccinated close contact, stayed home for a day to monitor any possible COVID-19 symptoms and returned to school the following day.
Andrews expressed that the school’s system of handling COVID-19 cases could be more efficient if students were directly told of their condition instead of communicating primarily through their parents and guardians. “We’re high school students. We’re the ones who need to know directly if we’ve been in close contact so that we can quarantine,” Andrews said.
To avoid additional COVID-19 cases within Stuyvesant, Moran stressed the importance of following health and safety protocols, such as wearing a mask. “One of the reasons that consistently wearing your mask is important is because close contacts are determined at three-plus feet and masks on. Wearing your mask at all times reduces the chance of a person becoming considered a close contact,” he said.
Though Stuyvesant’s population is made up of 3,557 students, teachers, and staff members, health guidelines and new policies have yielded a low number of COVID-19 cases. “We have very few cases and very few close contacts, even. People are being very careful,” Ingram said. “I’d love for people to feel confident that things are running smoothly.”