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Positive test rate for COVID-19 ticks up to 3% in New York State, data shows

New York State has hit 3% in the seven-day average for positivity in testing for COVID-19, as virus indicators tick up and the state heads for what medical experts fear will be another holiday season surge.

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The average has climbed in the last three days, from 2.78% to 2.90% to 3%, according to data released by the state on Friday. Long Island is headed in the same direction, with the level rising in the same period from 2.62% to 2.73% to 2.88%.

Meanwhile, Hiawatha Elementary School in the Sachem Central School District has seen an outbreak of more than 40 cases, prompting school officials to take extra precautions.

After a surge this summer fueled by the delta variant during which the level on Long Island surpassed 4%, COVID-19 indicators had been dropping since mid-September. The seven-day average fell to nearly 2% on Long Island. But that average and other indicators started rising again in the last few weeks both on Long Island and statewide.

Medical experts say the numbers are going up because many people remain unvaccinated, the cooler weather is pushing people indoors, and many people are not wearing masks in crowded indoor locations.

The number of new daily cases also continued at relatively high levels, according to the latest state data. Long Island tallied a total of 809 in test results from Thursday, with 341 in Nassau County and 468 in Suffolk County.

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New York City registered 1,142 new cases on Thursday.

Across the state, 30 people died on Thursday of causes linked to COVID-19, including one in Nassau and three in Suffolk.

The rise in cases and other indicators is “really concerning and disappointing, quite frankly,” Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital, told Newsday on Thursday. “We’re certainly not at all happy … about seeing rates going up right before these holidays.”

The same trend happened last year when COVID-19 indicators started rising after Halloween and stayed elevated through the Super Bowl in January.

Experts told Newsday that people should prepare for COVID-19 to potentially be a permanent fixture of their lives, like the flu season, since the region and the country do not appear poised to achieve “herd immunity” that would shut down the virus.

Herd immunity happens when so many people are vaccinated, the virus is largely crushed. But that could take 90% or more of the population being vaccinated, according to experts. Long Island this week hit 70%, and many of the remaining unvaccinated people said they won’t take the shots.

Long Island will not hit 90% until next August if current trends hold, according to a Newsday analysis of state data.

In the Sachem district, school officials notified parents of changes at Hiawatha Elementary School in a letter Wednesday after a recent series of positive COVID-19 cases were reported.

The state’s COVID-19 Report Card showed 44 cases at the Lake Ronkonkoma school, including 34 among students, teachers and staff who tested positive in the last 14 days through Thursday. The school has 665 students, teachers and staff, according to the report card.

Hiawatha Elementary has modified the daily lunch routine to allow for more spacing between students, and classes have been divided into two sections to allow for half-capacity in the classroom and cafeteria, allowing students to eat 6 feet apart, according to a letter sent to parents.

The letter, signed by Principal Joe Watson, said fifth-graders are no longer switching classes, as teachers will rotate among classrooms instead.

All classes continue to use outdoor learning spaces for snacks, and now possibly for lunch.

In a letter dated Tuesday from Superintendent Christopher Pellettieri, school officials said they had placed two kindergarten sections on remote learning the previous week.

“Unfortunately, we continue to have an increase in cases in Hiawatha. After consultation once again with the SCDOH, it has been decided that we should continue with in-person schooling at this time,” read the letter, referring to the Suffolk County Department of Health.

The district has limited visitors to the building and increased its daily deep cleanings.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said 51,000 children ages 5 to 11 had been vaccinated against COVID-19 since Nov. 4.

“The sites in the public schools have been incredibly popular,” de Blasio said Friday on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show. Over three days this week, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — 17,000 vaccinations were administered at our elementary schools.”

He said 80% of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated.

On Friday evening, de Blasio spokesman Mitch Schwartz released an agency-by-agency list of how many workers have filed requests, based on claimed religious or medical reasons, to be exempt from the city’s workforce-wide vaccine mandate. The agency with the most requests is the NYPD, with 6,170 requests of about 55,000 cops and civilian workers. The FDNY has 1,850 requests out of about 17,500 personnel; of the 11,000 or so firefighters in that agency, 1,560 have requested exemptions.

In the weeks since de Blasio’s mandate went into effect, the vaccination rate in each agency has grown: Firefighter vaccination was 58% on Oct. 19, and 70% in the NYPD; it’s now 86% in both agencies, as of Thursday.

With Matthew Chayes

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