State, County, Town and School Officials Issue Official Responses and Guidelines as Town Residents and Merchants Grapple with Concerns Over Revelations and a New Quarantine Order Directed at Graduation Attendees.
Despite Horace Greeley High School’s plan for a socially distanced approach to graduation, some people broke protocol, and today Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the State Department of Health to investigate possible coronavirus exposures at the graduation ceremony and at related events which followed. According to a release from the Governor’s office, potential COVID-19 exposure may have occurred “after an individual who had recently traveled to Florida and attended the ceremony subsequently began showing symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, four more individuals who attended the ceremony and had contact with the first positive case have also tested positive.” Please read to the end for public statements issued by both The Chappaqua Central School District and the Town of New Castle in response to the news and to Governor Cuomo’s order.
POIGNANT REMARKS AT A DRIVE-IN CEREMONY
Editor’s Note: What follows is a story that was being prepared to run as basic coverage of the graduation ceremony prior to the above breaking news. It is a look back at an event that included heartfelt addresses to and from members of the Class of 2020…
On Saturday, June 20, seniors and their families gathered together in the Chappaqua Train Station parking lot to celebrate drive-in movie style. There were two screens and a stage set up as cars rolled in filled with seniors in decorated caps and gowns.
The graduation began at 8 p.m.when Horace Greeley Assistant Principal Lauralyn Stewart welcomed families and acknowledged the different setting of this year’s graduation.
President of the Chappaqua Board of Education and parent of a Horace Greeley senior, Jane Shepardson, said that if graduation was taking place at the high school under the tent, she would be handing each of the students their diploma and greeting them with a hug as she has known many of them since they were in preschool since her daughter is their age.
“The graduation speech I wrote in June was certainly not the one I would have written several months ago. I had no idea I would be giving a speech in a train station parking lot during a global pandemic and would end up on a Jumbotron,” said Shepardson.“I obviously wanted to talk about something universal to all the seniors, but felt like I couldn’t avoid acknowledging that I had a daughter graduating with the Class of 2020, so my goal was to briefly mention it in a humorous way and then move on to what was relevant to all of them.”
Horace Greeley High School Principal Andrew Corsilia spoke about the silver lining of the time spent at home this spring- quality time with family.
Corsilia said this kind or amount of time together is rare and that some families may have even had college aged children back home eating at their dinner tables.
“As I looked out at the sea of cars, I found myself feeling proud of this class, what they have endured, and what they have accomplished,” said Corsilia. “After months of isolation from the school, I was relieved and pleased that we could provide them the celebration and recognition they deserved. It was an unforgettable finale to an unforgettable year.”
The valedictorians gave a speech together. Each allotted 45 seconds, the 13 valedictorians felt it would be symbolic for each of them to discuss a grade, kindergarten through twelfth. The students shared a lesson they took from that age or a moment that stood out to them.
Following the speeches, each student’s name was read as a photo of them appeared on the screens. Families honked and cheered for every senior and the environment was lively.
Once all the students’ names were read, Stewart announced she had two special surprises.
The first one was that former First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President of the United States Bill Clinton recorded a congratulatory message for the Horace Greeley High School class of 2020.
Hillary Clinton said that they understood that the graduating class’ senior year may have looked a little different but those changes do not diminish the accomplishments of the senior class in any way.
“All your hard work, and the work of your families that got you, the things you accomplished, the friendships and memories you’ve made at Horace Greeley, you’ll treasure that for the rest of your lives,” said Hillary Clinton.
Then came the second surprise, a fireworks display. Families poked their heads out of their cars to enjoy the colorful, bright display that celebrated the seniors.
“The surprising thing to me was how personal it felt, even though everyone was in their cars. I think we were all so happy to be in the same place together after being apart for so long, that it actually seemed even more personal than a typical graduation at Greeley. From what I have heard from the seniors and their families, everyone felt the same – that it was poignant and extra-special,” said Shepardson.
THE AFTER EFFECTS
According to the New Castle Police Department, an individual recently traveled to Florida before attending the ceremony at the train station. She showed symptoms after June 20 and tested positive. Since then, four more people who came in contact with the individual who traveled to Florida also tested positive. The student also attended a field night, a large gathering on multiple fields, on June 20 that some seniors and juniors also attended.
According to Gov. Cuomo, anyone who attended the graduation, field night or other graduation events must quarantine until July 5.
“We need to stay vigilant. We’re prepared to do the aggressive testing and contact tracing required to slow and ultimately control any potential clusters of new cases like the one in Westchester County,” said Gov. Cuomo.
The Governor also issued a new executive order that makes New York employees who voluntarily travel to high-risk states after June 25 ineligible for COVID-19 paid sick leave.
“New Yorkers have controlled the spread of this unprecedented virus by being smart and disciplined, and our progress to date is illustrated by the current low numbers of new cases and hospitalizations,” Governor Cuomo said. “But as we are seeing in other states who reopened quickly, the pandemic is far from over and we need stay vigilant. We’re prepared to do the aggressive testing and contact tracing required to slow and ultimately control any potential clusters of new cases like the one in Westchester County. If we are going to maintain the progress we’ve seen, we need everyone to take personal responsibility – that’s why I’m issuing an executive order that says any New York employee who voluntarily travels to a high-risk state will not be eligible for the COVID protections we created under paid sick leave.”
Q: The NYS Department of Health (“NYSDOH”) issued an Order mandating self-quarantine through July 5th. To whom does this apply?
A: The State advised that “Individuals who attended the graduation ceremony, Field Night event, or events associated with graduation, which continued into June 21, should extend their quarantine period until July 5th.” Although not mandated by NYSDOH, if after June 21st, you were at parties or other events without social distancing or wearing a mask, you should consider self-quarantining as well.
Q: If I social distanced or wore a mask at the above events, must I still self-quarantine?
A: Yes, NYSDOH is requiring anyone in attendance to self-quarantine irrespective of whether or not you followed proper protocols.
Q: Why is the NYSDOH mandating self-quarantine for those who followed the rules? Doesn’t it seem excessive?
A: To best ensure the spread of COVID-19 is minimized, a blanket self-quarantine provides a more efficient way to identify those who may have been exposed and manage the potential spread. If you remain at home and limit those you interact with, it shrinks the “contact tree” that contract tracers must pursue.
Q: How long will the self-quarantine last?
A: You must self-quarantine until July 5th.
Q: If my test for COVID-19 is negative, do I still have to self-quarantine until July 5th?
A: Yes, even if you test negative for COVID-19 you must remain in quarantine. Not only can you later test positive, but according to the Westchester County Department of Health, you should test no sooner than five days of exposure or upon presenting symptoms.
Q: How will I know if I have come into contact with a COVID-19 positive person?
A: You will receive a call from a contact tracer. It is imperative that if you see such a call on your caller ID you pick up your phone.
Q: How will I know if the call is from a Contact Tracer?
A: If you get a call from “NYS Contact Tracing” (518-387-9993), PLEASE answer the phone. Answering the phone will keep your loved ones and community safe.
A contact tracer will:
- NEVER ask for your Social Security number
- NEVER ask for any private financial information
- NEVER ask for credit card information
- NEVER send you a link without proper authentication procedures
Q: Where can I get more information about contact tracing?
A: Visit the NYSDOH website at NYSDOH Contact Tracing and the WCDOH website at WCDOH Contact Tracing.
Q: As an owner of a small business and an attendee of the HGHS graduation, does my staff also need to quarantine? Similarly, if I was with someone who attended the events, but I was not at the event, must I self-quarantine?
A: The NYSDOH Order only directs those who attended the graduation, Field Night and related graduation events to self-quarantine. It does not extend beyond that until if and when a positive result is received. As such, an individual with a second-degree interaction and who was not at the event need not self-quarantine. However, if the attendee later tests positive, those he or she was in direct contact with would have to self-quarantine. If you have questions or concerns, please call the New York State Department of Health hotline at (888) 364-3065.
Q: Will the Town share the names of those who tested positive for COVID-19?
A: No, WCDOH maintains the list and the names of these individuals is protected by HIPAA and not shared with the public.
Q: For those not under self-quarantine, what should we do to protect ourselves?
The NYSDOH and WCDOH both recommend social distancing no closer than six feet and wearing masks. These best practices have not changed and remain in effect. Further, it is recommended that anybody who attended the graduation ceremony or the Field Night event and may have come in contact with an infected individual get tested. For information about testing, please contact your local healthcare provider, or visit https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing.
Q: Will the New Castle Police Department enforce quarantine?
A: The NCPD does not have a list of those in attendance at these events nor will the NCPD be proactively checking to confirm adherence to the self-quarantine. Simply, you know if you were there and so do your neighbors and friends. Do not be “that person”. To file a report of an individual failing to adhere to the quarantine pursuant to the travel advisory, one should call 1-833-789-0470 or visit https://mylicense.custhelp.com/app/ask . Individuals may also contact their local department of health. The NCPD can only report violations they observe first-hand, but they can be of assistance and respond when needed. If they observe a violation they can also act.
Q: But for social media, would residents and the Town have known about the COVID-19 infections associated with HGHS graduation?
A: Yes, the Town is regularly in touch with the County Department of Health. Contract tracers are deployed once a person tests positive so that those potentially infected are advised and can take the proper steps to address their exposure.
Q: Will there be a “lockdown” or will the County or State implement similar measure as to what occurred in New Rochelle?
A: No, facilities, parks, businesses, and restaurants remain open. There is no containment zone. Fortunately, contact tracing is far more advanced and efficient. Simply, New Castle is not subject to the same restrictions.
Per Town Supervisor Ivy Pool and Deputy Supervisor Jeremy Saland and the board et al: “Please remain vigilant and adhere to best practices. Again, we will continue communicating with both the County and State to identify and address issues as they arise, questions we may have, and changes in policy should they occur. Your safety is always our priority. We have been in this together for a long time and we will see each other through.”