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Webutuck stays alert to COVID-19 and Delta cases, testing and vaccinations

WEBUTUCK — While the North East (Webutuck) Central School District (WCSD) instituted a number of health and safety protocols before the start of the 2021-22 school year, its administrators are keeping aware of the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant and are prepared to follow the necessary protocols to keep schools open and students and staff safe against the spread of deadly virus.

Within the first two weeks of the new school year, which began Sept. 7, the WCSD received reports of three active COVID-19 cases in the district. 

While uncertain of the exact date the cases were reported, Superintendent of Schools Raymond Castellani said they were spread out over two days the week before last. 

He said the cases involved two Webutuck students and one staff member, all of whom have been quarantined. 

The staff member and one of the students were from Webutuck Elementary School (WES), while the other student case was from Webutuck High School (WHS).

“I was really concerned that this Delta wave was going to spread heavily through Dutchess County,” Castellani said, “and since then, we have had no more further cases, so we hope that it’s contained to that small group.”

In an interview on Friday, Sept. 17, the superintendent told this newspaper while he believes some of the COVID cases the district has seen might be of the Delta variant, there’s been no way to confirm that.

Castellani addressed the recent COVID cases at the Webutuck Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Monday, Sept. 13. In the week before the BOE meeting, he said he believed there were “less than five people identified in our area” who were sick and that the number of cases has since reached “over 10.” 

Believing the district was starting to see a wave of the Delta variant at that time, Castellani said, “Hopefully it’s a wave we can get by without having major changes to our program.”

By Sept. 17, Castellani said he was looking for signs the wave might start to flatten.

“It’s hopefully going to drop off so we’re hoping to get through that wave or plateau.”

Castellani informed the BOE that Business Administrator Robert Farrier and other Webutuck staff have done all of the contact tracing for the three cases, and that anyone who has been in contact with those individuals unmasked or unvaccinated has been quarantined. 

Pointing out how this year’s protocols differ from last year’s, Castellani said in following the guidelines set forth by New York State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals don’t have to be quarantined if they are properly masked. 

However, if they are unmasked for any reason, unvaccinated and are within 6 feet of an individual who tested positive for more than 15 cumulative minutes, the individual has to be quarantined. 

Farrier added students in kindergarten through 12th grade don’t need to quarantine as long as they are wearing their masks properly.

As a new requirement instituted by Governor Kathy Hochul, Castellani said that individuals who are unvaccinated or choose not to share their vaccination status with their school district will be required to take part in weekly mandatory testing. 

He said the WCSD has been doing a lot of work with the Webutuck Teachers’ Association, its Civil Service Employee Association and even outside vendors, and it now has a list of everyone in the district who has chosen to share if they’re vaccinated; those who have chosen to share they’re not vaccinated; and those who have not chosen to share their vaccination status.

Working closely with Dutchess County, Castellani said Webutuck will have a COVID testing and vaccine site at WHS (94 Haight Road in Amenia) from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23 and 29. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be available. 

“For those who choose not to be vaccinated at this time, that’s their choice and we respect that,” Castellani said, “but they will have to be subject to testing, and for those who haven’t shared with us their vaccination status for whatever reason, they will have to be subject to testing as well.”

Castellani said the testing results will come back within a day; school personnel will have to prove they tested negative in order to return to work. To date, he said Webutuck has about 25 to 30 people who either didn’t respond or told the district they weren’t vaccinated, “so we know we can get that number in and out to be tested in a fairly quick manner.”

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