All schools in Ulster, Dutchess, Orange counties to close for 2 weeks due to COVID-19 concerns

Daily Freeman-10 months before

The announcements were made Friday afternoon by Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

Orange County schools also will close for the two weeks starting Monday, said County Executive Steven Neuhaus.

Ryan said in a prepared statement that Ulster County schools "will be closed for instruction, after-school and extracurricular events, and public events.” Both he and Molinaro said school districts still may require essential staff to report to work as needed.

Also in a prepared statement, Dr. Carol Smith, commissioner of the Ulster...County Department of Health and Behavioral Health, said the decision to close schools "was not made lightly, and we know that it will have real-world impacts to many, but it is the decision that needs to be made to stop the continued spread of COVID-19."

Smith said the decision “is not a cause for panic,” and she urged residents to “continue to exercise caution.”

Ulster County had five cases of the coronavirus as of Friday. The latest patient is a Port Ewen man whose children attend the Kingston school district's Robert Graves Elementary School and J. Watson Bailey Middle School.

After learning about the Port Ewen case on Thursday, the Kingston school district announced there would be no classes on Friday.

The Wallkill school district was closed Thursday and Friday because a COVID-19 patient in the town of Shawangunk lives with a district student and employee. 

Ulster's five virus cases as of Friday afternoon were the Port Ewen man; the Shawangunk man, and a person connected to him; and a town of Rochester man, and a person connected to him.

Shannon Harris, supervisor of the town of Esopus, where Port Ewen is located, said Ulster County officials were tracing the latest patient's “other associations."

“They are undertaking community tracing right now to understand how this came about,” she said.

Asked on Friday to define quarantines, Smith said there are two types: mandatory, which is for individuals who have tested positive for the virus or have had "direct family contact" with a positive-tested individual; and precautionary, for individuals who may have been exposed, possibly through travel.

Smith said quarantined people are expected to "isolate at home" and not go to stores or "engage in social interactions" or attend public events.

Molinaro said Friday that Dutchess County had three cases, up from one the previous day. He also declared a state of emergency for Dutchess, which he said "expedites the county’s sharing of resources and ability to better respond to this rapidly evolving situation."

Ryan, who declared a state of emergency in Ulster County on Thursday, said he recognizes the hardships that closing schools will have on parents and the community, but added: “Acting decisively now will significantly reduce the impact on our community and help protect our most vulnerable neighbors.”

He said the county is working with school districts and community leaders to develop plans to help alleviate the stresses and hardships the school closings will place on affected families.

"I know this will impact families in our community and understand the sacrifice this will entail, but I am confident we are making the right decision,” Ryan said in his statement.

At a video press conference Friday afternoon, during which reporters asked questions by phone, Ryan said he feels confident that his decision to close schools "will significantly flatten the curve, if you will, of the growth of this virus."

Ryan and Ulster BOCES Superintendent Charles V. Khoury said the needs of students who are eligible for reduced-price meals and "other critical services" are being considered by school district officials as they prepare for the extended closings.

Khoury said efforts to address student needs in the coming weeks are a "work in progress" and will "look different in every area." He said all Ulster County school superintendents are on board and committed to making the closure work.

Neuhaus, the Orange County leader, said Friday that closing schools "is a prevention measure."

"After careful and serious discussion with Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman and the county’s school superintendents, we feel that this is the most prudent course of action for our county schools," he said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has waived the state rule that all schools be in session a minimum of 180 days during the current academic year to be eligible for full aid.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 421 cases of COVID-19 in New York state, including three in Orange County. Nearly 160 of the New York cases are in Westchester County. There were 154 cases in New York City.

421 cases of COVID-19 in New York state For related local stories, go to bit.ly/DFCOVID19. For live local updates from around the region, go to bit.ly/DFcovid19live.

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