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As the percentage of positive tests throughout the county continues its rapid climb to about 3.5% from around 1% in the last 10 days, Suffolk County has started its first school-based testing in Hampton Bays and Riverhead.

Those two school districts, where county and school officials are testing students who have received permission from their parents, recently started testing students for COVID-19 in an effort to monitor and reduce the spread of the virus.

Hampton Bays has a 6.5% positive testing rate over the last five days, while Riverhead has a 5.6% positive rate for that same period, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

About 400 tests for students, teachers and faculty in Hampton Bays, which started on Thursday, Nov. 19, will be administered before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Four employees from Suffolk County are on site to administer the rapid tests, which provide results within 15 minutes.

“The goal in launching this free school-based testing program is to be proactive in an effort to get control of these numbers in the county,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. More testing will help the county locate the potential source of community spread, helping to enable schools and businesses to remain open.

The school testing is part of a “comprehensive effort to get our arms around these nubmers and stop the surge in the county,” Bellone said.

The Riverhead tests will start on Friday, Nov. 20. The county hasn’t determined how many tests it will administer at that location. The Riverhead and Hampton Bays testing kits came from New York State.

Additional pop up testing will occur in the Hamptons Bays that Stony Brook South Shore Hospital will administer over the next two weeks, which will continue on an as-needed basis.

Bellone said the spread of positive tests is occurring throughout the county and isn’t localized in any one region.

“What we’re seeing is the spread is happening everywhere across the county,” Bellone said. “The announcement today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort to get community spread under control.”

While schools in Manhattan have closed in response to a rise in positive tests, Bellone said concerted efforts in the county may prevent the eastern part of Long Island from the same fate.

These efforts include increasing the number of contact tracers to 150 today from just 30 before this surge began. The Suffolk County Police Department is also increasing enforcement around the holiday about social host laws and gathering limits below 10 people. The Suffolk County Department of Health is also working through social media to remind residents about their public health responsibilities.

Bellone reiterated that some of the increase in cases in the county came from gatherings around Halloween. With Thanksgiving next week, which typically brings multiple generations of families together, the result from these gatherings could continue to increase the number of positive tests.

Bellone said the county would continue to follow local data. If other communities also have positive test rates above the average in the county over a long enough period of time, the county will “engage with those school districts” as it has with Hampton Bays and Riverhead, Bellone said.

At this point, the county has no plans to conduct additional testing after Thanksgiving.

“We’re not seeing the spread happening inside the school,” Bellone said. “The effort we are engaged in today is part of a larger, comprehensive effort trying to get a handle on this in the county. It’s not, per se, an issue about the schools. We are looking at certain communities” where the positive rate is above the average for the community.

The county executive said he would provide data about the school-based testing once it was collected.

Lindsey David, a Medford EMT, is tested for coronavirus antibodies at New York Cancer and Blood Specialists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

With the amount of testing for COVID-19 still nowhere where it needs to be, locals in emergency service are starting to get such necessary information whether they have COVID-19 or its antibodies from some unexpected places.

Kenneth Spiegel, a Medford volunteer department member, is tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Photo by Kyle Barr

The New York Cancer and Blood Specialists location in Port Jefferson Station started offering tests to firefighters, emergency responders and other essential workers Saturday, May 2. Throughout the morning, cars from districts such as Medford pulled into the parking lot located at 1500 Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station. Many who arrived said this had been their first opportunity to get tested, even though as EMS workers in an ambulance they have been handling COVID-positive patients for nearly the past two months.

Marcia Spiegel, an EMT for the Medford Fire Department, said she had been exposed all the way back in early March when at a surprise party she learned one of the persons there had it, but even close to two months since,she was never able to get tested.

Both her and her husband Kenneth both traveled to Port Jefferson Station to get tested, as did many from her department that morning May 2.

“If we’re in fact negative, it doesn’t mean that we still can’t get sick, but if we know if we have the antibodies, that would be better,” she said.

Staff in full body gear went out to each car to administer the tests, including the notorious long-stemmed nasal swab to test for the virus and drawing blood to test for antibodies. About 35 visitors came to the location last Saturday, including some essential workers from a construction company. NYCBS officials said another 50 would attend next Saturday’s marathon. The testing is held Saturdays at that specific location when no other employees or clients come through, medical workers said.

Lindsey David, a Medford EMT, said she donated blood right at the start of the pandemic, but has been looking for ways to help even more. That would be especially important if she can confirm she may have had the virus and perhaps can donate her blood plasma if she indeed has the antibodies.

“I just want to help any way I can,” she said.

Diana Youngs, a VP of Clinical Operations at NYCBS, said all readings from the tests are being done in-house at the Route 112 location. Fire departments and companies receive their antibody tests within the day, while the virus test is available within the next 48 hours.

Lindsey David, a Medford EMT, is tested for COVID-19 at New York Cancer and Blood Specialists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Researchers are still trying to understand what are the likelihood of developing antibodies for the virus after infection, but theoretically, Youngs said, if one has tested negative for the virus and for antibodies then likely they have never had the virus.

“They don’t know, and say you call an ambulance to your house, you don’t know if they have it,” Youngs said. “So it works both ways, it helps everybody.”

All testing supplies are coming from the company’s own suppliers.

Such efforts are some of the few non-governmental testing initiatives on the island that specifically offer help to emergency responders. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced plans for testing to be held at local pharmacies, specific details of locations and how those tests will be processed have not yet seen the light. New York state is also offering people the chance to try and get tested, with people able to visit covid19screening.health.ny.gov

Though, barring a vaccine, officials said testing is the only way the economy will eventually be able to safely reopen.

“Increased, reliable testing is going to be the key to reopening businesses, public facilities, and protecting our workers,” Brookhaven town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a release. “Offering these tests to our frontline workers is a critical first step.”

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The closely-watched hospitalization rate crept up in the last day, disrupting a streak that had Suffolk County within a day of reaching the critical 14-day declines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended for a phased reopening.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by 4 to 817, as the number of people discharged from the hospital increased by 33, which is about a third of the pace for the last few weeks.

The slight increase in hospitalizations, however, does not reset the CDC guidance clock, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the state would use a rolling three-day average of hospitalizations.

“We are confident we will meet that metric,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters. “Based on what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, my expectation is that will be declining once again tomorrow.”

Cuomo’s daily press briefing outlined the basics for reopening the New York, though downstate counties such as Nassau and Suffolk are going to have to wait longer than upstate, which could see things open much sooner as the May 15 deadline for New York Pause order expires.

The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by seven to 317.

The number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus climbed by 563 to 37,537. Bellone said hotspot testing sites that have also provided food distribution would now include Huntington Station. Last week, the county added food distribution at Wyandanch and Brentwood.

The number of people who have died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by 17 to 1,273, which is lower than recent fatality rates. It still, however, represents the loss of another 17 people.

Separately, Northwell Health and New York State have started the process of antibody testing at the Suffolk County Police Academy for law enforcement today. The health care professionals tested 400 police officers today.

“We will be testing not only police officers, but also correction officers, deputy sheriffs and probation officers,” Bellone said. The testing will expand to include first responders, Emergency Services Staff, fire and essential employees.

Bellone urged anyone interested in joining the county’s Suffolk Forward business initiative, which is a joint effort with Stony Brook University, to reach out through 311.

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Several weeks after viral hotspot testing sites in Suffolk County opened, the percentage of positive tests is coming back higher than for other areas.

After 1,077 people were tested in six sites, including Huntington Station and Wyandanch, 577 people tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

“That is definitely a lot higher than the overall number in the county, which stands at 40 percent,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

By testing in these communities, the county hopes not only to get an idea of the rate of infection in these areas, but also to communicate the importance of social distancing and isolating for people who have positive tests.

“By doing the testing, we have the direct one-on-one contact with patients and it is with Spanish speaking health professionals who can have an effective dialog,” Bellone said. The communication is “well-received by the patients.”

For some residents who live in more densely populated areas or who share a home with others who might have underlying medical conditions or whose age makes them vulnerable to the virus, the county has offered housing on a case-by-case bases, Bellone said. That has included hotels and shelters.

These situations could include people who are “coming out of a hospital where there is an issue in a home with vulnerable people,” Bellone said. “It’s not just with hotspot areas.”

Bellone also shared the results of broader testing throughout New York that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has conducted to determine the rate of infection, which could include people who were asymptomatic or who had mild symptoms that dissipated quickly enough not to merit testing.

Based on preliminary data, Suffolk County could have about 250,000 people who have the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

If that’s the case, “that tells us that there are a huge number of people who have had the virus and didn’t know they had it,” Bellone said. A scaled up testing program to detect the presence or the virus or of antibodies, along with an aggressive contact tracing program, could enable the county to contain the virus.

That could mean that Suffolk County could “reopen our economy with protective measures in place,” Bellone said. The testing and contact tracing, which former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins University committed to supporting, are “very good news,” with the caveat that the county needs to “see those full results,” Bellone added.

The number of people who tested positive in the county in the last day was 709, which means that more than 30,000 people have received positive tests for the coronavirus.

The closely-watched hospitalization number dropped again in the last day, falling by 37 to 1,340 residents. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds has also declined by five to 494.

For the second straight day, about 10 percent of the population of people with COVID-19, or 131 people, have been discharged from the hospital.

The death toll also continues to climb towards 1,000, with 33 people dying from complications related to COVID-19, bringing the number for the county to 959.

On the supply front, the county executive’s office distributed over 24,000 pieces of personal protective equipment yesterday. The county also received 80,000 ear loop masks from New York State.

The procurement team in Bellone’s office received 27,000 isolation gowns, which have been in short supply and high demand.

The Stony Brook University Hospital extension, which was an all-out effort as the hospitalization was climbing dramatically, is completed. The beds at the facility are not occupied.

“I don’t think there are plans right now” to use those beds, Bellone said. “We are working to prevent a second wave rom happening. We know that has happened in past pandemics.”

The College Board has said they are pushing back this year's SATs to August. Stock photo

In response to schools closing around the country and to the ongoing isolation caused by the coronavirus Covid-19, the College Board has canceled face-to-face Advanced Placement exams, replacing them with a 45-minute only exam students can take at home.

The Advancement Placement tests often offer high school students the opportunity to receive college credit for subjects they have mastered.

The College Board is providing free remote learning resources. Beginning Mach 25, students can attend free, live AP review courses, which AP teachers across the country will deliver. The classes, which can supplement any online teaching students receive through their schools, will be available on demand and will focus on reviewing the skills and concepts from the first 75 percent of the course. There will also be some supplementary lessons covering the final quarter of the course.

The College Board will also unlock any relevant free-response questions in AP classroom for digital use, so students can study practice questions that are similar to the ones that would appear on the exam.

Any student registered for an AP test can choose to cancel at no charge.

The College Board decided to change the format of the exam after surveying 18,000 AP students, 91 percent of whom wanted to have the chance to take the exam.

To be fair to students who may have had more time off from school amid the virus outbreak, the College Board plans to focus the exam questions on topics and skills most AP teachers covered in class by early March.

The College Board indicated colleges supported this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive credit for scores that meet their requirements. Colleges have accepted a shortened AP exam for college credit when groups of students experienced other emergencies, the College Board explained.

Students can take the exam on any electronic device. They will also be able to take a picture of handwritten work.

The College Board uses a range of digital security tools and techniques, including plagiarism detection software, to discourage and catch any potential cheating.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer and Board President Andrew Rapiejko discuss the district's letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport Board of Education is seeking a moratorium on state-run teacher evaluations for the current time.

In an open letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Superintendent Robert Banzer criticized the fact that

public schools are still required to administer state assessments to measure student progress, despite the fact that these tests have been put on a temporary freeze.

“The district cannot use the state assessments for teacher evaluation, so it must use a form of Student Learning Objectives and report those scores for teachers even though they will not be used to determine teacher effectiveness,” Banzer said in the letter.

Student Learning Objections, first implemented in 2012,is a teacher evaluation tool used when state assessments are not in effect.

“As a result, we are burdened with setting aside time for both state assessments and SLOs, which will increase the amount of time preparing, administering and scoring assessments,” Banzer’s letter said.

In the letter, Banzer proposed that the moratorium be extended to eliminate Student Learning Objections to comply with the recommendation of the state task force, to reduce the amount of time spent on state assessments.

“Needless to say, the poor implementation of the state assessments and their use as an instrument to measure teacher effectiveness over the past few years undoubtedly minimized their effectiveness as an instructional tool,” Banzer said. “Instead, it has turned into a political debate and created a fracture between and among parents, educators, board members and political leaders that needs repair.”

Trustees applauded Banzer’s letter at the board meeting on Thursday, and discussed other concerns with the current state of Common Core.

“I think it’s really important that we engage the community,” Trustee Donna McNaughton said at the meeting. “I know that the knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘this was done so poorly … I’m not doing anything else until we change what these things are.’ But we don’t want to have four years go by and the tests haven’t changed.”

The board plans to set a date in February to meet with the community and explain where the district is now, with the changes to Common Core and teacher evaluations, along with what a student’s day will look like if they choose not to participate in the state assessments this spring.

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Comsewogue kids are going to get another view of their education system.

“Beyond Measure,” a documentary by director Vicki Abeles about “America’s troubled education system,” will be screened on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium, in an event hosted by TASK, Comsewogue High School’s student government. The film is a follow-up to Abeles’ 2010 documentary “Race to Nowhere,” which provided a close-up look at the pressures placed on young students in America.

“In Beyond Measure, we find a revolution brewing in public schools across the country,” according to a description on the film’s official website. “From rural Kentucky to New York City, schools that are breaking away from an outmoded, test-driven education are shaping a new vision for our classrooms.”

Comsewogue school district and its superintendent, Joe Rella, have been at the forefront of the battle against the Common Core and standardized testing, standing out as one of the strongest voices on Long Island and in New York State. In addition to appearing at local protests, the district even went as far last year as considering a proposal to refuse to administer state exams unless the state delivered more education aid and reduced the weight of student test scores on teacher and administration evaluations.

The description of “Beyond Measure” on the documentary’s website echoes some sentiments expressed by educators and parents who oppose the Common Core and state testing.

“We’re told that in order to fix what’s broken, we need to narrow our curricula, standardize our classrooms, and find new ways to measure students and teachers,” it says. “But what if these ‘fixes’ are making our schools worse? In ‘Beyond Measure,’ we set out to challenge the assumptions of our current education story.”

Screenings of the film have taken place across the United States over the past year, with more scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

“I am thrilled that our high school students are actively playing a role in exploring education policy, and look forward to their insight,” school board member Ali Gordon said in an email. “I believe that the issue of standardized testing is central to the debate about the direction of public education all over the nation, not just here. Education policies created at the federal and state level focus heavily on data collected from standardized testing, which has resulted in a huge shift away from student-centered learning.”

Tickets to attend the screening of the film at Comsewogue High School are $10 and are available online or at the door prior to the event.

For more information about the film, visit www.beyondmeasurefilm.com.

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Superintendent Ken Bossert. Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

Port Jefferson’s school board took a firm stance Tuesday night against the direction in which New York State is moving public education.

In a statement approved at its meeting this week, the board highlighted three of the most controversial pieces of the educational reform agenda: the Common Core Learning Standards, standardized state tests linked to the new curriculum and teacher evaluations that rely on student performance on the former two. They join a growing mass of politicians, teachers and parents who, with a new school year winding up, are renewing a call for the Common Core to be revised or removed.

While the board called the Common Core “a significant step forward in providing a sound curriculum for our students,” the members spoke against what they perceived as a poor job by the state in implementing the more stringent standards, which were launched in New York classrooms a few years ago.

The backbone of the program is a series of standardized tests that track student progress. That data is then used as a component in teachers’ and principals’ annual evaluations. For those reasons, parents and educators have referred to the exams as “high-stakes” tests.

According to the board, it “forces teachers to spend the greatest percentage of instruction time on tested areas” while neglecting other important topics. For example, Common Core emphasizes English and math learning and as a result, the board said, teachers have spent less time on subjects like social studies and science.

The tests have also faced criticism because many parents and educators say they are not properly aligned to the curriculum, and thus include material students would not have learned.

The opposition to the tests has launched an anti-testing movement over the last two years in which parents have declined the tests for their kids, calling it “opting out.” In the last state testing cycle, Port Jefferson saw half of its third- through eighth-graders opt out of the standardized English and math exams.

This hasn’t been lost on state officials.

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he would assemble a group of experts, parents and educators to review the Common Core program, saying that he believes the system contains problems.

“The current Common Core program in New York is not working and must be fixed,” he said in a press release.

Cuomo said he will call upon the group to “provide recommendations in time for my State of the State Address in January.”