Yonkers schools navigate omicron as new vaccine data begins to emerge


(PIX11/Darren McQuade)

School administrators in Westchester County’s largest district, and the third largest in New York state, are trying to get ahead of another potential COVID-19 surge.

The superintendent of the Yonkers Public Schools said there are currently more than 40 active COVID cases reported in his students pre-K through 12th grade.

“We need to work collaboratively to protect our children and ensure they are learning where they will learn best: in their schools with their teachers,” said Dr. Edwin Quezada.

Quezada said the delta variant remains problematic, and a 13-year-old is the first person in Westchester County to test positive for omicron.

It’s not known how or where the teen contracted the omicron variant of the virus, what their vaccination status was, or the severity of their symptoms.

Experts say those who have tested positive for omicron and are vaccinated are only experiencing mild symptoms.

Quezada said his district is increasing prevention efforts with vaccination clinics and screening testing to help slow the spread of the aggressive virus.

“We have a diverse citizenship here in Yonkers and we need to keep them all safe and protect them all, and we need to provide services to those that do not have the ability to go to the doctor,” said Quezada.

Scientists still don’t fully know how big of a threat omicron will be in the U.S., but Pfizer said Wednesday its booster dose significantly increases protection of the omicron variant. Children 12 to 15 years old can get the vaccine, but no one under 18 is currently able to get a booster shot.

Dr. David Hirschwerk is an infectious disease specialist at Northwell Health. He said it’s only a matter of time before boosters will be widely available. Until then, now is the time for those who are eligible to get the added protection, he said.

“Certainly getting the vaccination significantly reduces the likelihood of being infected, but it also greatly reduces the risk of developing severe illness if infection occurs,” said Hirschwerk.

Westchester resident Jean Nelson never got a vaccine; it’s choice she’s strongly reconsidering.

“Some part of me is saying don’t get it and see what happens and leave it in God’s hands, and the other part is saying you can’t get a job unless you get it, you can’t travel unless you got it,” she said. “It’s up in the air, but I’m leaning towards getting it, because I won’t be able to survive out here.”

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