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The New Normal: How Westchester Has Changed Due to the Pandemic

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By Nick Brandi, Michelle Gillan Larkin, Amy R. Partridge & Gina Valentino

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have etched an indelible mark on the globe, as well as on our county, with practically every aspect of daily life turned upside down.

All key economic sectors, from dining and retail to education and healthcare, have been severely impacted, and each has had to contend with sweeping workforce changes, brand-new safety protocols, and unprecedented consumer behavior. The editors at WM delved into what the realities will be going forward for each of these sectors as we navigate our new normal.

AdobeStock/Alessandro Biascioli

– A New Era in Healthcare –

Amid a roiling ocean of distress, telemedicine emerges as a vital port in a storm.
By Nick Brandi

No industry experienced the pandemic the way the healthcare industry did. For that workforce, it wasn’t a shutdown but rather a ramp-up, with frontline staff, support staff, and administrators pushing themselves to limits previously unimagined. We spoke with many of Westchester’s key healthcare providers, who shared their thoughts on what the future of medical care would look like in the county. What emerged was an enlightening consensus that for all the uncertainty and virtually incalculable loss, it’s possible that it took COVID-19 to bring healthcare where it needed to be all along.

“Six months from now, if you come in with a rapid heartbeat, a severe injury, or something else, people will be wearing masks,” says Dr. Rafael Torres, director of emergency medicine at White Plains Hospital (WPH), which, with more than 65,000 visits a year (under normal circumstances), is the home of Westchester’s busiest emergency department. “We will be wearing N95 respirators; we will be wearing eye shields; we will be using cover-up gowns. These are all things that [hospitals] should have been doing before. There’s even evidence out there that physicians should not be wearing ties when seeing patients. I think until we have a vaccine, we are going to have to test all patients who are admitted into the hospital, which is what we are doing now.”

But that’s in the hospital. According to Torres, the real system game-changer in present and future healthcare comes in what’s not done in the hospital. “Going forward, a trajectory that really needs to continue is the expansion of home monitoring and home care,” he says, “an expansion into what in many ways is the safest place to receive care — your home.”

Torres is referring to what’s commonly known as telehealth or telemedicine, likely healthcare’s most rapidly expanding field. With the diagnostic and telecommunications technology currently being deployed in telemedicine, a patient may not only receive remote care from skilled clinicians while in the comfort and safety of their own home but also real-time lifesaving virtual treatment while at another medical facility, in an ambulance, on a medevac chopper, or even at the site of an accident. To lend perspective to telehealth’s meteoric rise, prior to the pandemic’s outbreak, WPH conducted “tele-visits” only on a limited basis; since the end of March, however, more than 16,000 have been performed.

“Just to give you an idea of how rapidly the field [of telemedicine] is advancing, in April alone, the Montefiore Health System had 114,000 telemedicine visits; in February, we had zero,” says Jeffrey Short, vice-president and chief of staff of the Montefiore Health System, which includes both White Plains Hospital and New Rochelle Hospital. Short added that while the exponential increase obviously arose from exigencies imposed by COVID-19, public receptiveness to the burgeoning field appears to be shifting diametrically, practically overnight.

“In a 2019 national survey, only 11 percent of patients had undergone telehealth visits. Now, 76 percent say they are interested in using telehealth,” says Short.

The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is no stranger to telehealth. The 10-member network, which covers much of the Hudson Valley, introduced the program approximately five years ago and has seen rapid adoption during that time.

“Six months from now, if you come in with a rapid heartbeat, a severe injury, or something else, people will be wearing masks.”
—Dr. Rafael Torres, Director of Emergency Medicine, White Plains Hospital

“In the past five years, the use of telehealth at WMCHealth has increased 300 percent — and that’s before the outbreak of COVID-19,” says Dr. Corey Scurlock, director of WMCHealth’s E-Health program. “Where it changed the most, I think, is in the older generation. They now see telehealth as a real, viable means to deliver their healthcare. One of the biggest hurdles in the past was the fact that for most telehealth applications — excluding telestroke and telepsychiatry — you could not bill insurance companies or CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] for it. Now, the government has pulled the curtain back on billing, and the prime insurers have followed, so the ability for an organization to implement and sustain a telehealth program has really improved. In return, I think the payers and the government are going to see a huge return on their investments, in reduced transportation fees, reduced hospital admission rates, and reduced length of hospital stays, among other things.

“Think about this,” Scurlock continues, “with telemedicine, from the time a stroke patient is wheeled into the ER until the telestroke doctor has seen them is 12 minutes — plenty of time to administer a lifesaving drug called tPA. Contrast that with a neurologist who’s called in at 2 a.m. and must then drive to the hospital, get ready, and examine the CT scan. That takes a lot longer than 12 minutes, unless the neurologist just happens to live at the hospital. We’ve already created telehealth pathways and hardware in the ambulances to connect pediatric ICU specialists, neonatal ICU specialists, and trauma specialists with patients on route to the hospital, and it will only expand from there.”


PPE Usage Rates

at White Plains Hospital from March to June, the peak period of the outbreak.

Gloves
1,183,860 pairs

AdobeStock/New Africa

Isolation gowns
270,000

Bouffant caps
270,000

AdobeStock/lunx

N95 masks
81,000

Shoe covers
270,000


Scurlock goes on to say another big benefit of telehealth is that providers — including nurses, doctors, and nurse practitioners — who would have otherwise been excluded from the healthcare workforce due to things like age and comorbidities would still be allowed to practice medicine and give care to those in need, thereby maximizing the workforce’s diversity and efficacy.

This evolution in healthcare has found its way to urgent care, as well. CareMount Medical has several urgent-care clinics distributed throughout Westchester and the Hudson Valley, and it is all in when it comes to telehealth. “During the COVID-19 peak, CareMount was conducting about 1,500 telehealth visits per day, compared with times prior to the pandemic, when it was conducting six per day,” says Dr. Scott Hayworth, president and CEO of CareMount Medical. “Our providers and patients have had very positive experiences with telehealth. This is a valuable health technology that improves access to healthcare, communication, and the patient experience.”

It’s undeniable that the technological virtues of telehealth are a watershed in healthcare. But some institutionalized practices will come down to procedural changes and even good old spit and polish. Karen Dolman, COO of Westmed Medical Group, which has five urgent-care sites in the county, says that in addition to molecular testing (via nasopharyngeal, or NP, swabs) for infections and viruses becoming a mainstay of urgent care moving forward, “efficiencies for no-waiting-room arrivals and non-contact workflows are being piloted across our group and will quickly become another norm in primary care, specialty care, and at our urgent-care centers over the coming months.” Dolman adds that CDC-recommended cleaning protocols, such as detailed surface cleaning between patients and electrostatic spraying of each room following care of patients suspected of having COVID-19, will also become part of the new normal.

AdobeStock/nattakorn

According to senior vice president of professional and support services Anthony Costello, WMCHealth did, and will continue to do, some major housecleaning of its own. Costello agrees that PPE isn’t going anywhere anytime soon — certainly not before a vaccine is created — but adds that certain hygienic measures adopted during the pandemic will likely become standard procedure.

“We were in a very comfortable situation with ventilators, N95 masks [and related equipment], and that will continue, but that also led us to adopting the hypochlorous misting process, which is a weak acid that we use as part of the turnover process for all hospital rooms,” says Costello. “We implemented new cleaning policies everywhere a patient touched within a hospital, and we were pretty quick out of the gate with that. We have a partnership with Compass-One Healthcare [part of Crothell Heathcare] on the environmental-services side, so we’re pretty much at the forefront of bringing this new methodology to [the region], and it will continue indefinitely and perhaps even expanded.”

Nowhere was the toll of COVID-19 greater than in senior care and assisted living. Just ask Rita Mabli, president and CEO of the century-old United Hebrew in New Rochelle, which, with approximately 1,000 elderly residents across its continuing-care network and 800 employees (all within a city that had been both the genesis and epicenter of the pandemic in Westchester) found itself uniquely in the crosshairs of COVID-19. Mabli’s organization fared better than many of its kind, losing just 11 patients compared with 65 who recovered and were discharged safely to their residences.

“The first known case of COVID-19 was announced on or about March 3,” says Mabli. “On March 5, I believe, we closed our doors to visitors — that was even more than Governor Cuomo directed the senior-care facilities to do.” Mabli immediately deployed virtual technology to replace traditional operations and services wherever possible, including virtual visits with residents’ loved ones, staff meetings, board meetings, and HR interviews, even virtual tours of the facilities for prospective residents. “The virtual tours and virtual visits really helped families and our board members stay engaged, and it helped us get the employees onboarded in a very efficient way,” Mabli says. “So, I expect those are practices that will become a permanent part of our lexicon.”

What all of these integral healthcare providers agree on is that telehealth will almost certainly be at the epicenter of the new normal.

She adds that part of coping with the coronavirus meant going old school, with encouraging results. “We went back to informational posters, scattered throughout our pavilion, where we tell people and our staff what they need to do, practices to maintain, and remind our staff that they’re heroes,” shares Mabli. “We have two giant signs in front of our pavilion that read: ‘Heroes Work Here.’ The response has just been incredible.”

While Mabli echoes the expectations of her colleagues at other local healthcare institutions about the indefinite continuation of social distancing, PPE, and heightened hygiene protocols, she acknowledges that she and others like her are going to have to find room in the budget for some high-tech upgrades. One such example is the brand-new, five-figure kiosk United Hebrew recently purchased, which allows operators to sign in, record body temperature touchlessly, and ask CDC-recommended COVID-19-screening questions of every staff member, visitor, and third-party caregiver who enters the community.

Ultimately, what all of these integral healthcare providers agree on is that telehealth will almost certainly be at the epicenter of the new normal. “Physicians young and old were using [telemedicine] technology to see patients, some in their most vulnerable time of need,” says Dr. Michael Ford, an internist at the forefront of telehealth for NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Medical Group in Cortlandt Manor. “It is for these reasons and many others that I believe telehealth is here to stay.”

The open-air setting at Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers gives shoppers room to queue outside. Photo courtesy of Cross County Shopping Center

– Retail Reimagined –

The retail sector took a hard hit, but local shop owners are reinventing themselves to keep up with safety precautions and shifting consumer behavior.
By Gina Valentino

The retail industry has seen dramatic shifts in recent years as online shopping, home delivery, and experiential shopping skyrocketed. But nothing could’ve prepared shop owners for the drastic changes imposed by COVID-19. Referencing the closure announcements of numerous locations of national retail brands, many of which have a Westchester presence, retail consultant Deborah Widger, of Retail Gal Consulting, LLC, agrees that the industry was hit with what amounts to a knockout punch. “Clearly, we’re still in the throes of this pandemic and nowhere near its end,” says Widger. “Experts say it will be with us well into 2022, [so] retailers are struggling in a major way.”

Temporarily mandated store closures, minimal foot traffic, and now wary shoppers forced owners to rethink the way they operate, implementing heightened safety precautions and sterilization. PPE as inventory is the new norm, as are smaller staff, limited hours, virtual services, and robust online presences.

Many local boutiques, like beehive designer collective in Mount Kisco, are focusing their efforts on existing e-commerce while maximizing safety for in-person experiences (masks, sterilized surfaces, and limited shoppers at any given time). Despite her boutique being open now, beehive’s owner, Dawn-Marie Manwaring, continues to encourage online purchasing and curbside pickup — two practices Widger believes are here to stay.

Some that had traditionally relied solely on in-person transactions are creating new online shops, like 31-year business D’Errico Jewelry. Owner Sal D’Errico explains it can be difficult to purchase jewels online: “People want to come in; they want the education.” However, for those who don’t feel comfortable doing so, D’Errico installed contact-free services to pick up and drop off jewelry (a drive-through at the Scarsdale location, a walk-up window in Mount Kisco). “It was absolutely a bit of an investment, but we were willing to invest for the convenience of our clients,” says D’Errico.

Briarcliff Manor’s Wondrous Things and Rye Brook’s Z Life, neither of which has an e-commerce website, also offer contactless pickup and delivery, in addition to highly personal virtual shopping experiences (video chatting to showcase inventory), which they heavily relied on during the pandemic.

Local boutiques are focusing their efforts on existing e-commerce while maximizing safety for in-person experiences.

A personalized experience has merit, says Dr. Michael Rosen, of Eye Gallery of Scarsdale, which, in addition to installing  Plexiglass barriers and a UV air-filtering device, currently schedules customer appointments. While Rosen doesn’t think these appointments will last forever, he does believe individualized attention may stimulate sales.

With health a concern, Widger says, “The spontaneity of shopping is temporarily silenced.” Denise Elias, co-owner of LOLA New York in Tuckahoe and White Plains, explains, “We can’t just have a sale and open it up to a large crowd. We used to do a quick flash sale on a weekend; now we’d have to let the sale go on a little longer, giving everyone an opportunity to come.”

Shopping malls, like Yonkers’ Ridge Hill and Cross County, benefit from the open-air setting, which “lends itself to customer confidence,” says Liz Pollack, Cross County’s senior marketing manager. Shoppers can stroll outside while waiting to enter stores, allowing retailers to adhere to occupancy restrictions. Known for their large-scale events, both malls are creating more intimate, ticketed gatherings while providing safe shopping and entertainment.

Oasis Day Spa has installed a Halo system that kills 99% of airborne viruses. Photo by Enormous Creative

– A New World of Wellness – 

In many ways, true escapism is a thing of the past, but local beauty salons and wellness centers are doing everything they can to provide serene, safe experiences.
By Gina Valentino

Beauty salons and spas have long been oases to which many retreat for stress-free experiences. But there are ways in which this kind of escapism is an antiquated notion, at least for now. We are reminded of our current reality, even while getting our hair cut, according to the terms of our necessary new normal. Still, many grabbed their N95s or any appropriate facial covering and, once restrictions were lifted, flocked to local beauty gurus for professional pampering as at-home face masks and boxed hair dye were cast to the wind.

While you won’t see salons and spas packed for the foreseeable future, demand is still high. After months of quarantine, professionals received hundreds of messages to attend to overgrown roots and stress-relieving massages. Precautions in place include ample hand sanitizer, increased sterilization, temperature checks at the door, and booking fewer clients to ensure social distancing, with sufficient time to clean spaces and equipment.

Newer businesses, like DryLuxe in Dobbs Ferry and Scarsdale and Igor M Salon in White Plains, are adapting. Amanda Rivera, DryLuxe owner, created a limited menu. Services include blow-drying and styling, all appointment-based, no walk-ins. At press time, makeup appointments were not yet allowed, says Rivera, “until we can ensure it is safe for our customers to be without a face covering.” While mimosas had been offered in the past, they will be no longer. As Rivera explains, “The experience for customers who visit DryLuxe will change somewhat due to the precautionary measures being taken; however, the result will remain the same: looking great and feeling beautiful.”

Some wellness services were imperative to perform in person, so high levels of cleanliness were crucial.

Igor Musayev, of Igor M Salon, has created a new outdoor seating area for those who book longer treatments, like color, and don’t feel comfortable sitting inside the salon for an extended period of time.

Bruce Schoenberg, owner of Oasis Day Spa in Dobbs Ferry, a mainstay for more than a decade, says nothing could have prepared him for COVID-19, but he is adjusting. “I have a whole emergency program set up for things like fire, windstorm, water-pipe breaks…. I had no playbook for [a pandemic].” He adds that while the spa has always emphasized cleanliness, he installed a Halo system that kills 99% of airborne viruses, to ensure customers’ and employees’ safety going forward.

For those who would prefer not leaving the house but still crave some TLC, White Plains- and Rye-based Meg-a-Lashes, which provides eyelash extensions, and Plush Blow, a blow-dry bar with multiple county locations, are offering in-home beauty services, as many are still nervous to enter salons.

Life Time began using an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant and virucide. Photo courtesy of Life Time

Some wellness services, like physical therapy, were imperative to perform in person, even during lockdown, so high levels of cleanliness has been crucial. Maria Cuomo, chief clinical officer at Iron Health (with locations in Ardsley, Briarcliff Manor, and Peekskill) says that as an essential business, its one-on-one model is a draw for many, ensuring fewer people in one space. Iron Health now also offers telehealth services to national clients and created online courses to help people address pain on their own (a residual of new workspaces that are not ergonomic).

Of course, keeping physically fit and healthy help keep illness at bay. While the fitness facilities at gyms, including Life Time in Harrison and Chappaqua are not yet open (originally supposed to be included as part of Phase 4), they are gearing up for new measures. Susan Mistri, senior general manager at Harrison’s Life Time, says there will be increased spacing between equipment and within workout areas, and more intense cleaning, using an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant and virucide, known to be effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Public Pizza Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar opened in Ridge Hill in March, amid the pandemic’s height. Photo courtesy of First Generation Hospitality

– Food Fight –

Restaurants are going to great lengths to support staff and encourage patrons to leave the house.
By Michelle Gillan Larkin

One of the strongest warnings during the pandemic has been: Keep your hands away from your face! And since that is nearly impossible to do while diving face-first into a juicy cheeseburger or a bucket of Buffalo wings, many area restaurants are coming up with clever ways to not only safeguard the health of their patrons and staff but also to paint a portrait of a sterile, yet inviting,  dining environment.

Aside from adhering to government mandates on socially distanced tables, face coverings for workers and diners (when not seated), and stepped-up cleaning efforts, the new normal at some of our perennial faves includes prominently placed hand sanitizers, disposable menus, and a 50% reduction in tables (and, unfortunately, servers), both inside and out.

Rafael Palomino, owner and chef at Sonora in Port Chester, has taken this new version of normal to a whole other level by installing plexiglass shields at every table to separate servers from patrons and their paella. “Right now, it’s not the food; it’s not the ambience,” he says, “it’s the safety factor.” At press time, bar seating was still a no-no, so Palomino engineered plexiglass compartments for intimate drinking buddies to belly up to. “The closest thing to a vacation these days is your backyard or a restaurant,” he says. “We’re trying to cover as many bases as we can within reason.”

In addition, all doors now have kick openers, and restrooms are upgraded with touchless toilets, urinals, and faucets. Employees get temperature checks when they clock in, and customers are required to sign in to assist with possible contact tracing.

It has cost Palomino about $10,000 to create a new normal at Sonora, but as he points out: “It’s an investment and an effort to save your business while making your customers feel taken care of.”

The new normal includes prominently placed hand sanitizers, disposable menus, and a 50% reduction in tables.

Agreeing that patrons need to feel comfortable when they walk in, Maurizio Belli, owner of Sette e Vente Cucina & Bar in Bedford Hills, does whatever it takes to give diners whatever they need for safety’s sake. “If someone wants disposable cutlery, cups, or dishes, all they have to do is ask.” Otherwise, silverware is now being wrapped in cloth napkins, and sanitizing wipe packs are on every table.

Like most eateries, 273 Kitchen in Harrison enjoyed a booming takeout-and-delivery business during quarantine, so Chef Constantine Kalandranis created a special walk-up takeout window to keep the momentum going. “It’s been a great addition,” he says.

For those who choose to sit and stay awhile, they’ll notice hand sanitizers at the tables and stickers with QR codes for contactless menu viewing. Kalandranis purchased new chairs that are “more wipeable,” and while dishes continue to be sterilized in the high-temp dishwasher, cutlery and drinkware are disposable. Plus, each cook now has his or her own hand sink, as well as personal, isolated bathrooms. “These are things we probably should have always been doing,” he notes.

Kalandranis had been planning to renovate the patio but instead spent “a couple grand” on efforts to adapt to the industry’s new norm. “That’s a lot of money when you don’t have that much coming in,” he says.

Perhaps the most conspicuous evidence of a new M.O. at New Rochelle’s Dubrovnik Restaurant is the steady stream of cuisine leaving the establishment lately. “I had to hire a delivery guy when this thing hit,” says General Manager Matija Zarak. Takeout and delivery of the popular Croatian cuisine continue unabated, even though indoor and outdoor dining is in full swing. To make up for reduced seating, however, Zarak put down pavers in the garden area to accommodate seven more tables, each playing host to a QR code sticker for contactless menu scans. 

Diners use disposable menus at Via Forno Wood Fired Pizza & Vinoteca in Scarsdale. Photo courtesy of First Generation Hospitality

Such enhancements, coupled with a loss of business, has cost the restaurant more than $10,000, but, as Zarak points out, “It’s a global thing. What can you do?” The solution, he says, is to “just roll up your sleeves and work harder.”

At the fast-casual papi’ in White Plains, hand sanitizers line the walls; employees are checked daily for fevers; and manager Alessandro Crocco has transformed his ordering kiosks into touchless, Alexa-type engines. “It speaks to you when you get close,” he explains. 

QR codes for menu viewing and ordering dot just about every surface inside and out, allowing patrons the privilege of enjoying the eatery’s signature pinsa pizza without ever setting foot in its doors. Furthermore, tables and chairs are wiped down not only after they’ve been vacated, Crocco says, but also as people take their seats, so “they can see it happening and feel safe.”

Disposable, single-use menus are in play at all spaced and oft-sanitized tables at First Generation Hospitality restaurants, which include Pizza & Brew and Via Forno Wood Fired Pizza & Vinoteca, both in Scarsdale, as well as the new Public Pizza Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar in Ridge Hill in Yonkers.

Owner John Racanelli says the biggest change at his establishments is “the increased need for patience as everyone navigates these uncharted waters.”

Food for thought as we all adapt to breaking bread in a brave, new booth.

AdobeStock/halfpoint

– School’s In (But Also Maybe Out?) –

At least some in-person learning is the plan as Westchester heads back to school this month, but students, parents, teachers, and administrators must be ready to turn on a dime based on the virus’s status.
By Amy R. Partridge

This year, as Westchester gets ready for the first day of school, only one thing seems certain: It’s not likely to resemble any Day One we’ve known before. Westchester school districts spent the summer preparing for multiple back-to-school scenarios: full-time, in-person school; full-time distance learning; and a hybrid model combining both distance and in-person instruction.

At press time, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave authorization for all school districts to reopen K-12 facilities in New York State as long as, on opening day, their region remains in Phase Four of the state’s tiered reopening strategy and the daily infection rate in that region (averaged over a two-week period) remains below 5%. Schools are not mandated to open for in-person learning, however; each district will make its own decision. (All districts have been required to send their reopening plans to the state Health Department for approval.) Once open, however, schools would need to reclose if the region’s infection rate rises above a seven-day average of 9%. In all districts, parents will have the option of choosing an all-remote learning option for their children if they do not wish them to attend school in person.

To meet the requirements surrounding social-distancing protocols, face coverings, cleanliness standards, and other concerns, Westchester districts are considering once unfathomable ideas: students attending school every other day or doing week-on, week-off rotations; classes split into smaller groups or pods scattered throughout school buildings; using other available community buildings as makeshift schools. Greenburgh Central School District Superintendent Dr. Tahira DuPree Chase says her district even considered “having our high-school students doing full-time online instruction from home, to allow us to use the high school building to have all the elementary kids doing in-person instruction.”

Needless to say, the uncertainty has been a huge stressor. The number of details to consider — everything from classroom setup to transportation, food service, after-school activities, and many others — has made planning for reopening a massive undertaking.

“We have more than 120 discrete items we are considering as part of our reopening plan,” explains Dr. Raymond Sanchez, superintendent, Ossining Union Free School District. He counts things like, “If we are doing temperature scans for students coming into the buildings, will we have to use multiple entrances to speed up the process and help with the need to social distance? Can parents be allowed in the building at all during the year? Will we need to hire additional nursing and custodial staff? Can we install plexiglass barriers in classrooms? Will students need to have lunch in the classroom to avoid the lunchroom? What do we do about busing?”

The number of details to consider has made planning for reopening a massive undertaking.   

Also key is the fact that the new normal for public schools in Westchester is not likely to be unified. Westchester school districts possess many disparities when it comes to class sizes, resources, and population demographics, making a single approach nearly impossible. “There’s a big challenge for all districts to move forward in the same direction, because we all have different density issues,” notes Dr. Jen Lamia, superintendent of schools for the Byram Hills Central School District.

A district’s facilities are a big part of the equation, adds Dr. Lisa Brady, superintendent of the Dobbs Ferry School District. “We have these beautiful, older, historic buildings, and they tend to have smaller classrooms than a district with newer construction, which might have larger spaces,” she says of the challenge to fit children in existing classroom spaces with social-distancing mandates.

Westchesterites should expect to see in schools a lot of what they are experiencing elsewhere in the community. “There will be a lot of protocols in place relating to physical distancing, to sanitizing, to students and teachers wearing masks, and to washing your hands before you enter classrooms and other school areas,” explains Brady.

Per Cuomo’s direction, schools will also be required to supply face coverings for students who need them, post health-instruction signage throughout buildings, immediately send home any student or staff member who becomes symptomatic, have plans to assist in contact tracing, and be ready to pivot to distance-learning or hybrid schedules if schools fail to meet minimum infection-rate percentages.

That last point is top of mind for administrators as they seek to ensure continuity of education inside or outside the walls of the school buildings. “No matter what work we’ve put forth [for in-person learning], we may need to pivot [to a distance-learning or hybrid approach], so we need to be prepared for that,” Sanchez notes. In Byram Hills, explains Lamia, “We are concentrating our efforts on creating new schedules for our students that can be easily replicated should we have to switch between in-school learning and e-learning at home.”

The social/emotional learning and well-being of students also cannot be overlooked, says Greenburgh’s Chase, because of the challenges put upon families by COVID-19. “Many families lost jobs, lost their lifestyle, may have lost loved ones,” she explains. “Our students are dealing on many different levels, and their social and emotional needs really have to be understood and provided for.”

All of these factors make the notion of homework and tests as the toughest things about school seem antiquated. But Brady of Dobbs Ferry sees this unique situation as a teachable moment. “This is a great opportunity for all of us to model for kids the kinds of 21st-century skills that we keep telling them they need: the flexibility to adapt to and deal with rapid change, and the ability to persevere,” she says. “Kids are looking to the adults around them to see how we are handling this. I hope everyone remains mindful of that and embraces the opportunity to model flexibility and resilience.”