NYC Unveils Plan For Dealing With COVID-19 Cases In Schools

Coronavirus NYC schools
Photo credit Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
By WCBS Newsradio 880

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – New York City has unveiled its plans for dealing with positive coronavirus cases when schools reopen in the fall—and it includes potentially closing classrooms or even entire school buildings if cases are confirmed.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza released the plan Thursday night and expanded on it at a briefing Friday.

De Blasio said schools will only reopen in the fall if the citywide infection rate is below 3 percent. That means the percentage of people testing positive citywide has to be less than 3 percent using a 7-day rolling average, the mayor said.

“Unless that number is below 3 percent, we will not reopen schools,” de Blasio said. “If that number is below 3 percent, we will move ahead with our plan.”

If the percentage is equal to or greater than 3 percent, schools will close.

The citywide infection rate has been below 3 percent since June, meaning schools are currently on track to reopen with a mix of remote and in-class learning in September. De Blasio reported a 1 percent infection rate Friday.

“Now let’s be clear, I’m very hopeful when I say that because New York City—thanks to all your good efforts—has been under 3 percent since June 10—six weeks in a row now,” de Blasio said. “That’s extraordinary. And today’s indicators are very strong again. We know we can do it, but I want to hold that very tough, tough standard.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make an initial decision next week on whether city schools can reopen. De Blasio has said there will be a mix of in-person and remote learning when the school year starts on Sept. 10.

Students will be isolated in “pods” to limit the number of staff and students they come in contact with in an attempt to stop any potential infections from spreading in schools.

Under the plan unveiled Thursday night, the Department of Education is working with Department of Health and the NYC Test + Trace Corps to identify, isolate and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Among the protocols: If one or more students from the same class test positive, the classroom will close and students will be asked to self-quarantine for two weeks. If two or more students in the same school but not the same classroom test positive, the entire school will close for two weeks.

Parents may get fewer than 12 hours' notice of a school closure and switch to online learning. If a school is closed, the school will communicate by 6 p.m. on the night before about the status of opening the next morning, based on the status of the investigation. A school building will not reopen without confirmation from public health experts that it is safe.

Here are details of the plan laid out by de Blasio and Carranza in a press release:

NYC COVID schools plan

If a student or teacher is feeling sick, they are required to stay home and, if their symptoms are consistent with COVID-19, are asked to get tested. If a student begins experiencing symptoms in school, they will be isolated and monitored by a staff member until they’re picked up by their parents or guardians. Staff members who become symptomatic at school are asked to immediately leave the building.

All staff members will be asked to take a COVID-19 test in the days before the first day of school. The staff will have priority access for free testing at 34 city-run testing locations.

In addition, when school buildings reopen in the fall, all schools will be required to enact precautions to prevent, identify, and address the spread of COVID-19, including:

  • An isolation room for students with symptoms with a dedicated staff member or health professional, 
  • Physical distancing and required facial coverings,
  • Cleaning throughout the day and nightly disinfecting, and
  • Clear communication with families and school community.

The Department of Education is also purchasing large orders of hygiene supplies for schools, including facial coverings for students, teachers, and staff; disinfectant; hand sanitizer; and electrostatic sprayers.

The NYC United Federation of Teachers union called the plan released Thursday "confusing and absolutely frightening," specifically noting that schools "could remain open if a student or teacher tests positive for coronavirus in the fall, but their specific classrooms will be closed."