New York City schools closure could be 1st domino in rollback of COVID reopenings

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Friday, November 20, 2020
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Josh Einiger has more on what could be next to shut down in New York City following the closing of public schools.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City's entire public school system is closed for in-person learning through Thanksgiving as coronavirus rates continue to tick upward, and it could be the first domino to fall in a larger rollback of the city's reopening from the first wave of COVID-19.

Many outraged parents are complaining that schools are shut down while businesses like bars and bowling alleys remain open, but city officials hinted that is likely to change soon.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York City would go to an orange zone if the positivity rate eclipses 3%, which would shutter indoor dining, gyms and other establishments.

"It's just a matter of time, and very likely to be in the next week or two," Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the closures of indoor dining and gyms.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the goal is to reopen schools by next month, although there is no clear path to an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers union on establishing an in-school threshold for students to return.

Cuomo said schools can "test out" of orange zones and reopen if they remain closed for at least four days, clean, and test people as they return.

Private schools are not impacted by the city ruling and remain open for in-person instruction.

During his daily briefing Wednesday, de Blasio said the positivity rate is "exactly on the nose" of 3% on the seven-day rolling average. Thursday, the 7-day average was 3.01%.

"We all are in fact are feeling very sad about this decision because so much work has been put into keeping the schools open and opening them up to begin with," he said. "We intend to come back and come back as quickly as possible."

De Blasio said the city is working with the state by having a number of conversations with the governor on what it would take to bring schools back.

"I want that to be clear," he said. "We have stringent health and safety standard right now. We have to raise that even higher to be able to bring our schools back, but that is exactly what we are going to do."

The mayor also urged for more testing and implored parents to return the parental consent form for students to be tested.

Parents of the 300,000 New York City public school students currently learning in-person were left in a state of confusion Wednesday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted did not exist.

"They're not confused," a combative Cuomo said of parents. "You're confused."

In fact, there is quite a bit of confusion, in no small part because the state and the city use different metrics to measure the coronavirus infection rate.

By state measure, the city's seven-day rolling average was 2.5% on Wednesday while the city said it was 3.00%.

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"The city reports results from the day tests are taken," the spokesperson for the mayor said. "The state reports results the day the results come in. Reporting on tests from the day they are taken is the general epidemiological consensus. It gives the city the most accurate view on the levels of COVID on a given day."

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams criticized the leadership of the de Blasio administration.

"As a public school parent, I am angry about the leadership that failed to make it possible to keep schools safe and open," Stringer said. "It is a sad irony that schools are closing on the same day my office went to court to stop the stonewalling of our investigation into the de Blasio Administration's response to the first wave. And while our kids will no longer have access to in-person instruction, people are still dining indoors, going to gyms, and working in non-essential offices. This does not pass the common sense test."

Williams said "there is absolutely no leadership present."

"All day today, as they have for many months, New York City's parents and principals, teachers and students waited for leadership to explain whether and when the city's public schools would be closed," he said. "While they finally have an answer, there is absolutely no leadership present."

As public school students return to remote learning, the city says 60,000 students still do not have the iPads or laptops they need for remote learning.

There is a national shortage because of demand.

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