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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NYC schools vie to keep doors open amid a new variant going nowhere in the new year

The nation’s largest public school system aims to double Covid-19 testing capacity so that in-person classes can resume in January despite the coronavirus infection rate surging.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday morning that New York City schools are on track to reopen at full capacity on Jan. 3 with doubled testing capacity as Covid-19 positivity rates from the omicron variant break records.

“Let’s keep our kids in schools. Let’s all work together,” the outgoing Democrat said during a briefing Tuesday morning, announcing that the city will double its Covid testing capacity at schools to 80,000 tests every week on average in the spring.

“We will beat this together,” de Blasio said, noting that both unvaccinated and vaccinated students will be eligible for the expanding virus-testing measures.

New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest with about a million students, was one of the first in the nation to reopen to in-person learning after the pandemic hit in 2020. Frequent school or classroom closings due to Covid-19 cases proved disruptive, however, and de Blasio said Tuesday that the new approach will guarantee more consistency.

“This is how we are going to look at schools from this point on, keep them safe and keep them open,” de Blasio said. “Wide distribution of at-home test kits to every classroom. And when there’s a positive case in a classroom every child takes home at-home test kits. Every child who tests negative comes back to school. It’s as simple as that. So long as they’re asymptomatic, and so long as they test negative, they keep coming to school.”

Following weeks of concern that the omicron variant could upend the Jan. 3 start of the spring semester, de Blasio was joined virtually on Tuesday morning by Mayor-elect Eric Adams and state Governor Kathy Hochul to affirm that the city’s “schools need to be open” for the health and wellness of both students and their families.

Hochul said on Tuesday the state is designating 2.5 million at-home testing kits for students who have been exposed to an infected classmate.

"We all have to do our part to continue ... to make sure that parents feel comfortable when they send their children back to school on January third,” Hochul said on Tuesday. “So from our standpoint, what the state of New York can do to help best is to make sure that there are sufficient testing kits available to be used by the school district, and that is why I’ve directed our Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to provide 2 million tests to New York City to allow children to stay in school.”

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said on Tuesday the city’s teachers are prepared go back to work on January 3, but that “the real issue is whether the city can do its job — ensuring that new testing initiatives are available in every school and an improved Situation Room is actually in place by next week.”

“We want to thank Governor Hochul for listening to our request, and for providing city schools with 2 million instant tests so that anyone with close contact with a positive case will be able to know immediately if they are infectious and must quarantine,” the head of the city’s teachers union wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We are moving closer to a safe reopening of school next week.  But we are not there yet.”

De Blasio thanked both Hochul and Adams for their collaboration and cooperation on reopening schools during the transition period.

Adams, who will take over the mayor’s office two days before schools reopening, pledged to keep the entire city open as New Yorkers confront nearly two years under the stresses of the coronavirus.

“Two clear messages we’re sending loud and clear,” said Adams, who appeared virtually from his office at Brooklyn Borough Hall. “Your children are safer in school — the numbers speak for themselves — and we are united to make sure they continue to be safe.

“I thank you for that important motto: Stay safe and stay open. Not only our schools but our businesses and our entire city,” Adams continued. “We spent $11 trillion fighting Covid. It is time for us to realize that this is a resilient city and a resilient county. We must reopen our city and we can do that.

“Covid is not terrorism, but is has brought terror and the only way we can come back from this and get our city back open and thriving is to unite once again and I’m ready to do so,” the incoming mayor concluded enthusiastically on Tuesday.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced a vaccination incentive that rewards residents who get a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot by year-end with $100. He noted Monday that over 180,000 had received a booster shot since the announcement of the $100 incentive.

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Categories / Education, Health, Regional

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