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School bus driver tests positive for virus

Transportation Supervisor Lenny Barker, left, and Transportation Assistant Fred Finn stand before a school bus at the Saranac Lake Central School District bus garage in September. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — A Saranac Lake Central School District bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19.

SLCSD Superintendent Diane Fox made the announcement with a robocall to every student’s home between 7 and 7:15 p.m. Tuesday. She said the bus driver who tested positive last worked on Friday.

“I know you would like me to be more specific, but I cannot share identifying information,” she said in the robocall.

The district had already begun full remote schooling Monday as a precaution with COVID-19 cases surging in the local area and nationwide.

District Transportation Assistant Fred Finn said Wednesday evening that the bus garage has been shut down and that he is quarantining and working at home.

He said he’s proud of transportation staff for handling this curveball so easily. He was also thankful the school had gone remote, meaning students have not been on the buses the last few days.

“Once we get past a two-week quarantine and a deep clean, we can probably resume,” he said. “It might be fortunate that it is at Thanksgiving break here. There wouldn’t be a lot going on anyway. To me, this could’ve been a lot worse.”

Fox said Wednesday that the bus garage faces uncertain staffing, as it is not yet clear if other drivers will be quarantined. Finn said the district has around 14 regular bus drivers right now.

“Once all the contract tracing has been completed, we’ll have a better handle on what our staffing numbers look like,” Fox said.

She said contact tracers from the Franklin County Public Health department are contacting everyone who may have had contact with that driver.

In the meantime, she said school staff, volunteers and staff from Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook stepped up to make sure the usual backpack food deliveries, increasingly needed five-day meal packages and a special turkey dinner were delivered to 175 families Wednesday.

“We’ve realized how much the transportation department does,” Fox said.

She said staff members were very tired Wednesday afternoon after a full morning of one of the busiest food distribution days the district has had yet. This was actually the last meal delivery day the district has planned for now. The next food distribution day will be at a pick-up location.

Fox said the food delivered Wednesday should last families into the holidays, when the pick-up day will happen.

On Tuesday night, Fox said the bus driver is the first positive COVID-19 test in a district employee or student since school began this fall. She didn’t remember one from the spring, either.

She said the fact that Franklin County Public Health is the investigating agency does not necessarily mean Essex County residents are off the hook. She said the district reached out to Franklin County’s heath department first because it covers the largest portion of the district, and it took on the task.

Fox said the coronavirus’ impact on school has been stressful.

“There were people who believed that moving to fully remote was not the right decision,” she said. “There were also a lot of people who thought going to fully remote was the right decision. I’ve heard from both camps. I just want people to know that a lot of thought went into that decision.”

(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said inmates from local correctional facilities helped deliver food packages. It was staff from Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook. The Enterprise regrets the error.)

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