Westchester to Impose School Mask Mandate as COVID Cases Rise

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A recent steady uptick of Westchester COVID-19 cases has prompted County Executive George Latimer to call for a mandatory mask mandate in all schools and for the county to assess youth sports safety.

Latimer said Monday afternoon that the county is also going to limit its in-person employee attendance to no more than 50 percent by instructing employees who can work from home to do so. He encouraged private businesses and organizations to follow suit.

Westchester had 1,033 active coronavirus cases in the county on Sunday, the first time it has exceeded the 1,000-case threshold since June 6. Virus-related hospitalizations stood at 58, the highest total since July 9. On Sunday, there were 72 additional positives out of 4,893, a 1.5 percent infection rate.

The county’s active caseload reached a low of 426 in August and increased to more than 600 two weeks ago and more than 800 last week.

During the past week, seven county residents have died, with 12 fatalities recorded in the past two weeks. It took from July 19 to Sept. 13 to lose 12 people, Latimer said.

Although most of the power to issue mandates lies with the governor, Latimer said the county will take the steps it can in hopes of curtailing the spread of the virus.

“The spread is serious. People’s lives are in jeopardy, we’re losing more people today than we’ve lost in the period of time before and to do nothing would be wrong,” Latimer said.

All public, private, parochial and charter school students must wear masks except for designated breaks, when eating meals, during heavy physical exertion or when a teacher allows them to be taken off. Students must also wear their face coverings on school buses unless they have a medical issue.

Latimer said the county does not plan to impose penalties on districts for non-compliance, but will monitor self-enforcement.

“We have heard support for this mask proposal,” Latimer said. “It is not unique. Orange County and Rockland County have both imposed them more recently and we believe since it’s in our authority, we need to do that.”

Latimer said the county will evaluate whether youth sports is adding to the rise in cases. While there is no intention to shut down youth sports at this time, he wants the county to assess how the programs are being run.

School district administrations and municipal officials can monitor the programs operated by those entities, he said.

“The safety of our kids is the highest priority, and the safety of the adults with the children is also our priority,” Latimer said.

Starting next Monday, Oct. 26, the county will cut its on-sit staff to no more than 50 percent

Latimer said while there haven’t been specific causes linked to the rise in cases, social gatherings, particularly among young adults, and the reopening of schools are likely contributing. An outbreak at Iona College in New Rochelle accounted for 87 cases in the last two weeks.

“We know that one of the biggest differences between today and where we were two months ago is that there are students back at school, K-12 education, there are students back at colleges, neither of which occurred during the summertime months, or for that matter, during the latter part of the spring,” Latimer said.

Micro-Cluster Strategy

Last Saturday, Gov. Andrew governor announced a micro-cluster strategy to combat COVID-19 outbreaks on such a localized scale that individual streets with a higher than usual caseload will be pinpointed.

“We are now going to analyze it on a block-by-block level,” Cuomo said. “We actually have data that is so specific that we can’t share it because it would violate privacy restrictions, but we know exactly where the cases are coming from.”

The strategy will stay in place at least through the fall and until there is a vaccine, he said. Until now, decisions had been made on a statewide or regional basis.

The goal of the micro-cluster strategy is to minimize community spread and limit disruptions to daily life, such as enacting school and business closings. Cuomo did not outline what level of infection would trigger the newest approach. He called it smarter and more effective.

“To make it happen is the trick,” Cuomo said. “You have to have refined detection, which is more targeted testing, you need to have more mitigation measures for those areas that reflects why the virus is spreading in those areas and then you have to do enforcement.”

He also announced on Sunday that New York and other states have been formulating a distribution plan for when COVID-19 vaccinations are available. The population are being divided into prioritized groups.

The National Governors Association has reached out to the Trump Administration for funding for the effort and to answer questions on issues such as vaccination storage.

He warned residents to stay vigilant and to avoid COVID fatigue in order to stay healthy.

“If you allow the fatigue to take over and don’t follow the rules, the virus will spread,” Cuomo said. “It is that simple. We know how to control it, but you can’t get tired when the virus isn’t tired.”

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