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80 Quarantined in Scarsdale Following PSAT Exam at SHS

images(Update October 20) In a second incident in just one week, the Scarsdale School district ran into another COVID challenge on Saturday October 17. After students took the PSAT test at Scarsdale High School, an individual who had been in the room with 80 students in the cafeteria, received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19.

According to the email from the district, “The individual was asymptomatic during the test but noticed a loss of taste/smell while eating lunch after the exam. The person immediately went for testing and then contacted the District with this information.” It was later revealed that the COVID positive individual was a proctor or a person administering the test.

Though students were placed six feet apart and wore masks during the exam, the positive diagnosis required for contact tracing to be done. The Westchester County Department of Health said that the students and staff who were in the cafeteria will need to quarantine for 14 days. However, siblings of these students will not be required to quarantine.

The email from the school district says, “The Department of Health 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. The approximately 80 students and staff members who need to quarantine will be contacted directly by the Department of Health over the next 24-48 hours. Additionally, the High School staff will also be contacting all affected students/families.”

The schools custodial team cleaned all affected areas in compliance with the district’s restart protocols and CDC guidance.

School will re-open as scheduled on Monday.

We asked Assistant Superintendent Eric Rauschenbach for more information and here is what he shared.

“Once we were informed of the test result we immediately contacted the Department of Health. On the weekends there is a hotline and you leave a message. In the meantime, the District interviewed the individual and immediately gathered contacts for all of the students and staff that could have come in contact. The DOH contacted us shortly thereafter and we discussed the particulars of the situation and where there could have been exposure. The DOH collected contact information for students and staff so they could follow-up and confirmed they would place all students and staff in the cafeteria during testing on quarantine.”

We wondered if they were investigating where the exposed student may have contracted the virus and contacting whoever else may have been exposed? Rauschenbach said, “The individual was not in the buildings for 2 weeks prior to the test administration so there was no chance of in-school exposure prior to yesterday. The school's role was limited to providing information about yesterday. The Department of Health also interviewed the individual and will be following up on all non-school related contacts and public health concerns as per their procedures.”

How will the 80 quarantined students keep up with their work? Rauschenback said, “They will attend their classes virtually similarly to the way virtual-only students do.

And will they need to be tested before they can return? Rauschenbach answered, “The DOH requires a 14 day quarantine regardless of testing results. If a person completes the 14 day quarantine symptom free they may return to normal life (including school). We encourage families to contact their primary care providers to discuss testing and follow their recommendations. If a person becomes symptomatic during the 14 days they should immediately contact their doctor and follow their advice for testing and follow up.”

SHS Junior Sydney Piccoli interviewed some of the students who took the PSAT in the cafeteria on Saturday October 17 and here are their comments:

Shamolie Panjwani ’22:
Finding out about the COVID case at the PSAT, I was shocked. I was sitting with my mom when she had heard that where a case in the cafeteria and immediately went up to my room and called my friends to find out more information. I had always thought that if I were to be quarantined or get COVID it would be at school, not something I voluntarily went to. My first thoughts were whether I had contracted COVID and if I had spread it to my parents. While I wasn’t as scared about getting COVID myself, I was worried about my parents getting the virus. While I know that going to school, hanging out with friends, and daily activities are all a risk, I felt that this case was a wake up call for many in realizing that COVID is still prevalent within Scarsdale. In terms of my school schedule, I’ll be zooming into classes in the morning in addition to the start of cross-cohort streaming. Because many clubs and extra-curriculars are happening on zoom, quarantine doesn’t affect my schedule too much, apart from hanging out with friends and family.

Charlotte Davis ’22:
I’m glad that the school was so quick to respond to the issue so that it hopefully won’t continue to spread, but I’m personally kind of irritated that I have to spend two weeks locked in my room when I have been following all the protocols and such. I have to be fully online for the next two weeks which I am not excited about because of the added screen time when cross streaming is on the horizon as well. I am also annoying because I’ve had to cancel some of my upcoming plans with family and friends.

Samuel Drescher ‘22
I think it’s really unfortunate but not entirely surprising. The event definitely could have been regulated better. The seats were not assigned and the school did not keep track of who sat where so as to best inform people if they were close to patient 0. The lines in front of the school to check people in were unregulated and crowded, so there was much more room to be exposed than was necessary. It’s ultimately understandable that this happened, but I believe the effects of this exposure could have been mitigated.

Being in quarantine definitely throws a wrench in things. I’m now all virtual, which comes with its own consequences because I have to be on zoom all day. I believe this will have negative effects on my education and my mental health. Before quarantine, I was participating in cross country, but now that I cannot go to practices or meets for two weeks, I may not be able to have a significant season. Also, I will be unable to go on runs and exercise in public, which will probably make it harder to keep up with my physical health.

I was definitely shocked when I found out I had to quarantine. At first I was very concerned for at-risk people in my house, and in case I have the virus, I have to be very careful. This feeling quickly involved into panic as all of the sudden my life felt very out of control, and I know that the next thirteen days are going to be a big challenge. However, I’m optimistic that I will be able to keep up with all of my responsibilities and come out of this having undergone a tough experience.

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