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BOE scrutinizes state’s new COVID-19 regulations

PINE PLAINS — For its first meeting of November, the Pine Plains Central School District (PPCSD) Board of Education (BOE) ruminated over the latest New York State COVID-19 regulations on Wednesday, Nov. 3.         

COVID surveillance testing

The meeting was held over Zoom at 7 p.m. To open his report, Pine Plains Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler said PPCSD plans to start COVID-19 surveillance testing next week with help from Dr. Neil Smoller and his staff at Village Apothecary in Millbrook.

Handler said PPCSD issued a notice to parents explaining the district needs their consent if they want their children tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. He mentioned the district will use the Binex rapid test and reminded the BOE that the test is strictly for asymptomatic surveillance.         

Vaccine clinic

Come Thursday, Nov. 18, Handler said PPCSD will host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the Stissing Mountain High School cafeteria from 3 to 6 p.m. The clinic will administer first, second and booster shots of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. The availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is uncertain at this time.

Reflecting on the success of last month’s vaccine clinic, Handler mentioned Nasir Mahmood from Pine Plains Pharmacy said he vaccinated about 150 people at that clinic.         

Vaccines for children

Seeing as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for children ages five to 11, Handler said that, after talking with Mahmood, they’re not sure what the demand is going to be for vaccines. Whether they want to get their children vaccinated immediately, are reluctant to do so or are uncertain, Handler advised parents that “before you make a decision, consult your regular healthcare provider who takes care of those kids for you. That’s your best source of information — somebody you’ve trusted with their care all this time,” he said.         

To sign up for the vaccine clinic on Thursday, Nov. 18, residents can go online to the PPCSD website, www.ppcsd.org, and click the link.         

Updated DOH regulations

Examining the updated testing and quarantining supplemental information released by the New York State Health Department, Handler shared how he spent a substantial amount of time with the Dutchess County Department of Health (DOH) trying to figure out what the new regulations mean and what the district should and shouldn’t be doing.

As he explained the new regulations to the BOE, Handler said he wasn’t looking for a formal motion that evening, but said they’ll probably take steps to begin implementing the regulations over the next couple of weeks.         

Starting with test-to-stay (TTS) protocols, Handler explained TTS allows a student who would otherwise be quarantined as a close contact with a positive COVID-19 case to come back to school. If the student’s parents elect to implement TTS, the student has to be tested for seven consecutive school days. A rapid test can be used and students have to be non-symptomatic and continue to test negative. Handler said the DOH recommended starting the seven-day clock from the time of the close contact. He added that TTS is only for school attendance and students have to quarantine the rest of the time they’re not physically in class.         

Next, the BOE looked at testing to permit students’ return to school after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. If a student is fully vaccinated, Handler said they can return to school with a negative antigen test; if they’re not fully vaccinated, they need to take a PCR test.         

Focusing on test-out-of-quarantine (or TOR), Handle said PPCSD has been doing this practice with permission from the DOH. For cases in which students are fully vaccinated and are in a 10-day quarantine for being in close contact, Handler said if a parent gets the student a PCR test on the fifth day, it comes back negative and the student remains asymptomatic, then the student can return to school on the eighth day.         

Examining the new protocol involving staff, Handler said if a staff member has had a verified COVID-19 diagnosis, recovered and completed their 10-day quarantine, they don’t have to be tested for 90 days. However, he said the district has to keep track of the 90 days, though the staff member can come to work during that period and then go back to testing after 90 days.         

On Thursday, Nov. 4, Handler said the region’s superintendents planned to partake in a Zoom call to discuss the regulations, and that he asked Pine Plains Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Timm to join in. During the Zoom call, Handler said they planned to come up with “something of a unified strategy for implementing all of this.”

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