Approximately 80 Scarsdale students and staff members began a mandatory 14-day quarantine Saturday, Oct. 17, after being exposed to someone in the Scarsdale High School cafeteria during the PSAT that morning who developed COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus later that day.
Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services Eric Rauschenbach would not say if it was a student or staffer. “The way the room was set up, if we either released the position of the student in the room or whether it was a student or someone else, it would be too easy to identify that person,” he told the Inquirer.
The person, who had no known contact with a COVID positive person and who had not traveled to a restricted place, contacted the district around 3 p.m. Saturday to inform the administration he/she was asymptomatic prior to and during the PSAT, but later had a loss of taste and smell while eating lunch.
All attendees were deemed by the Westchester County Department of Health (DOH) “proximate” contacts — which is sharing the same room for more than 15 minutes — not “close” contacts — which is within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes. Rauschenbach said the quarantine is “cautionary” but, in the end, a quarantine is a quarantine.
Only Scarsdale students were in attendance for the test, no outsiders. Even if students and staff have a negative COVID-19 test, they must quarantine until Oct. 31.
“We’re encouraging all [impacted] families to check in with their primary care physicians about getting tested and following their advice,” Rauschenbach said. “Most medical advice is that you take a test between four and seven days after exposure because that is when you are most likely to come back positive, but the testing does not start or end a quarantine…”
There are precautions taken in the home as part of the quarantine, but if those quarantining develop symptoms, family members would need to start quarantining until a test was taken.
Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman, Rauschenbach and Principal Kenneth Bonamo sent an email to the community at 5:09 p.m. Saturday:
“The District has reported this incident to the Westchester County Department of Health, and we are actively participating in their contact tracing efforts. The Westchester Department of Health has determined that those students and staff members in the cafeteria will need to quarantine for 14 days. Siblings of those students, who are contacts of contacts, are not required to quarantine themselves.”
According to the email, the DOH “believes the risk for transmission is low due to the safeguards that were put into place but issued the quarantine to ensure there is no further infection from this gathering,” and aimed to contact all present within 48 hours.
The letter included this link for quarantine instructions: https://on.ny.gov/31pGy6l.
The good news was that the positive individual had not been on a Scarsdale campus for the previous two weeks. “From a school community standpoint and a school building spread standpoint there is no chance of further spread beyond the Saturday of the PSAT,” Rauschenbach said at a board of education meeting on Oct. 19.
Rauschenbach also said that only high school cohort A was impacted.
At the school board meeting, vice president Alison Singer asked if any outsiders are permitted at the tests. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Leadership Development Dr. Drew Patrick clarified that the PSAT is a school-run event for Scarsdale students only, while other exams are run by the College Board, and in order to be a testing center, outside students are permitted if space allows.
Rauschenbach said it’s “rare” to have “large numbers” of outsiders.
Future tests will not be impacted, according to Rauschenbach. “Right now we are planning on hosting the tests,” he said. “All of the precautions were followed, including distancing, mask-wearing, the recording of names and rosters so that contact tracing could be done smoothly and efficiently afterwards. All of that worked extremely well …
“This is similar to the number of students that would be affected in regular high school because students are in contact with somewhere between 60 and 80 in the course of their live classes. We kept the A and B cohorts separate in the way we set up the room, so it would only affect one of the cohorts.”
The high school opened as usual on Monday following a cleaning of “all spaces affected in the High School,” according to the email.
Quarantined students have moved to the virtual-only model for the 10 days of school, which equates to missing four half days of live instruction. They will instead use Zoom to attend those classes they would normally attend in person.
Last week Quaker Ridge Elementary School closed down for one day on Thursday, Oct. 15, and went fully remote due to a potential positive case. That happened around 7 a.m. that day with what Rauschenbach at the time called a “presumptive positive,” so with “an abundance of caution” the district opted to close the school while awaiting the test result. The district has since adapted its closure guidelines to include a scenario for a presumptive positive as the DOH does not get involved in decisions until an actual positive case is confirmed.
At the school board meeting Oct. 19, board member Robert Klein asked what impact alumni returning home from college later in the year might have locally. Rauschenbach said that would have to be addressed with the community. Those students, especially those who have siblings in Scarsdale schools, are likely coming from among the more than 40 states on New York State’s quarantine list, and therefore, they would be required to quarantine and encouraged to get tested.
“That is extremely important in allowing our local schools to stay open,” Rauschenbach said. “Not respecting that will inherently have a major chance of closing our schools.”