GCSD has first 2 cases of COVID-19 this semester, at Altamont Elementary

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

In-person classes started Monday at Guilderland, and on Friday, the school district learned that two members of the Altamont Elementary School community, in different households, had tested positive for COVID-19. The pictured students are heading for Westmere Elementary on Monday morning. All five of Guilderland’s elementary schools have students learning in small cohorts, which will make it easier to contain outbreaks.

GUILDERLAND — In-person classes started Monday at Guilderland and, on Friday, the school district learned that two members of the Altamont Elementary School community, in two different households, had tested positive for COVID-19.

Superintendent Marie Wiles said it is very different from last March when a staff member at a Guilderland school had one of the first two cases in Albany County and all the schools were shut down.

Shortly after, schools across the state were closed by executive order and teachers scrambled to teach their students remotely. Guilderland, like other districts, has spent months planning for a safe reopening.

Districtwide, about 77 percent of Guilderland students chose to go to school in-person and about 23 percent chose to learn from home this semester.

“Many of our neighboring districts have had cases,” said Wiles on Friday evening. She talked to The Enterprise after the first case was announced but before the second case was made known. Guilderland school families were notified about the second positive case, through email, on Saturday.

“We’re far more adept with identifying what we need to do, to isolate and quarantine,” said Wiles.

The way all five Guilderland elementary schools are set up this fall, the children who are attending classes are together all day in small cohorts.

“They stick together all day long,” said Wiles. 

The elementary students get instruction in special classes, like art and music, by having those teachers come to their rooms. And they also “stay put” for lunch, Wiles said.

This means that it will be much easier to identify people who have been in contact with the individuals who tested positive and perhaps just the classroom cohort with the infected persons can be quarantined for the required 14 days.

Wiles said the school is working closely with the Albany County Department of Health, whose members she called “responsive and knowledgeable.”

Wiles stressed that health-department staff will be reaching out to all contacts and advising them they need to quarantine and to arrange for testing if exposed. 

“Hopefully, we can isolate the positive case and a small number of individuals,” she said, “and maintain our operation.”

Wiles said she could not reveal whether the person who tested positive is a student or staff member.

“Please note that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other privacy laws restrict us from disclosing or confirming any personally identifiable information and we cannot identify anyone who has tested positive,” Wiles wrote in a letter to the community posted on the district’s website.

In March, the county had identified the person who had tested positive in the Farnsworth Middle School community as a woman in her thirties.

Wiles also noted in her letter to the community, “Since the start of the school year, the district has been thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting all buildings on campus, in accordance with guidance from the New York State Department of Health and the CDC. More information can be found in the cleaning and disinfecting section of the GCSD reopening plan.

“At this time, all schools remain open for in-person instruction,” the letter says.

Wiles told The Enterprise, “We so depend on everybody doing their part.”

This means, she said, continuing with wellness checks, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and frequently washing hands.

While this is the first case this school year for Guilderland, “I don’t think it will be the last,” said Wiles on Friday evening before learning of the second Altamont case.

She concluded, “We hope it’s very well contained.”


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