Cluster Zone Testing Requirements for Schools

Updated January 6, 2021

On January 4th, governor Cuomo announced new metrics requiring schools in areas with a positivity rate of 9% or higher to conduct COVID-19 testing in order to keep schools open for in-person instruction. The governor indicated that if the positivity rate within a school is lower than that of its community, the school can remain open for in-person instruction.

Although details of the state’s plan have not yet been released, we are closely following this data and will provide you with more information when it becomes available to us.

School-based Testing Frequently Asked Questions

Dear Families:

As COVID-19 cases rise across our region and state, we continue to meet with local superintendents and our county health department to discuss these developments and ways we can continue to keep our buildings safely open. 

New York State has implemented a micro-cluster strategy to designate areas with high COVID-19 infection rates as Yellow, Orange, or Red zones, based on positivity rates and daily new cases. If a zip code, census tract or region is placed in one of these zones, there will be restrictions for schools. 

While the Chatham Central School District is NOT currently in one of these zones, we are working with the Columbia County Department of Health and Questar III BOCES to be ready if any part of our community is labeled a cluster zone. Our District plans to remain open if we can comply with the state’s testing requirements and the circumstances allow. We will continue to evaluate the ongoing situation in our area and its effects on our schools.

On December 11, the Governor announced changes to the zone designation metrics. 

  • A Yellow Zone is a geographic area (zip code, census tract, etc.) with a 3 percent positivity rate over the past 10 days AND the cluster is in top 10 percent for hospital admissions per capita over the past week and week-over-week growth in daily admissions. 
  • An Orange Zone is a geographic area (zip code, census tract, etc.) with 4 percent positivity rate over the past 10 days AND 85 percent hospital capacity OR the Department of Health determines unacceptably high rate of hospital admissions. 
  • A Red Zone is a geographic area (zip code, census tract, etc.) that is 21 days from 90 percent hospital capacity. 

Screening Tests

In order for our District to remain open while in a Yellow Zone, we must commit to conducting screening tests on 20 percent of in-person students and staff over a two-week period. Students and staff members will be randomly chosen; only students  whose families have given consent will be tested. If the District enters an Orange Zone, we will need to continue to test additional students and staff at a rate of 20 percent per month in order to stay open. If the District enters a Red Zone, we will need to continue to test additional students and staff at a rate of 30 percent per month. We are training our school nurses in the rapid-testing protocols. 

Consent Form

Just as we have asked for your continued assistance with following the new COVID-19 protocols, we would need your permission to administer tests to your children. Our District will send out a test consent form if it becomes necessary. This only applies to in-person and hybrid students. Students who are learning in a fully-remote setting are not required to be tested.


The rapid test involves a non-invasive cotton swab swiped just inside the lowermost portion of the nostril. These are not the deep-sinus swab tests that are conducted at medical facilities. The test results are available within minutes. A student’s personal test results will only be shared with the student’s parent/guardian, appropriate school officials, and state/local departments of health. We will randomly choose students from a pool of individuals whose parents have consented to the test, and will notify parents if their child will be tested. If a student or staff member tests positive, they will be sent home and must stay at home until they are released by the county department of health. We will continue to notify our school community about any confirmed positive cases.

Going Forward

We will provide an update if the state designates any part of our community as a cluster zone, including sharing additional information on our testing plan. Please continue to practice safe habits at home and complete our daily screening form prior to sending your child to school. 

As always, thank you for all that you do to support our school district. We continue to be encouraged by our community’s resilience amid adversity – and your flexibility and patience throughout the pandemic. We will continue to put the health and safety of our students and staff at the forefront of every decision made.

Posted in Uncategorized.