Will North Country nursing home COVID outbreak affect start of school?

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 5:00 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2020 at 7:10 PM EDT
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ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. (WCAX) - In one week, a COVID-19 outbreak at a Northern New York nursing home has left three people dead and 32 residents and 27 staffers infected. Now, could it affect the start of school? Our Kelly O’Brien has been following the outbreak at the Essex Center in Elizabethtown and has an update.

"I guess I'm not concerned, I'm anticipating it," Elizabethtown Town Supervisor Noel Merrihew said.

Merrihew says he expects to see more COVID cases come from the outbreak and he's gotten a lot of calls from concerned residents over the last week.

"The safety situation-- as far as people shopping, knowing that the employees are still very active in the community and I think that's probably the biggest concern," Merrihew said.

The Essex Center says the 100-bed facility has 32 residents with positive test results after testing all the residents except two. The facility would not say how many residents live at the nursing home or the number of employees working there, but it did say that 15% of the staffers are traveling staff, meaning they came from various states to help with a staffing shortage at the Essex Center.

Twenty-seven staffers tested positive for the coronavirus in July and August. They are tested weekly per state mandate.

Merrihew says he is not aware of townwide testing because of the outbreak.

"I just don't believe the availability is there for the test," he said.

We asked the Essex County Health Department about testing the community. Monday evening, the Health Department said in response to the outbreak, they will test close contacts, those under a Health Order of Quarantine due to exposure risk. They say those people will be notified directly by the health department.

Also, a concern to many residents is what this means for the upcoming school year.

"We know that some of these employees have been out and about in the community, so it's something we are definitely taking into consideration as we continue our reopening plans," said Josh Meyer, the superintendent of the Bouquet Valley Central School District.

Meyer says the school planned for in-person, hybrid and online options-- whatever worked best for the students and families. This outbreak could change that.

"One of the things that we are discussing now is if that still makes sense with the new numbers in the community," Meyer said.

School staffers were expected to return to the classroom on September 1 and students on September 3.

“We just need everyone to understand that we are trying to do what’s in the best interest of the students, and keep everyone healthy and safe,” Meyer said.

School officials say they are working with the Essex County Health Department, the school board and staffers from the school to decide whether they will change any of the reopening plans. Meyer says that decision will be announced Tuesday.

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