NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City is moving away from quarantining public-school classrooms to aggressively testing students in a new policy called "Stay Safe and Stay Open," Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
The city is expanding its in-school COVID testing program when teachers and students return to classrooms January 3, doubling PCR testing in every school, every week.
Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said the goal of "Stay Safe, Stay Open" is to more quickly identify the actual cases and ensure they are isolating.
"What we know from our data over the school year so far is that schools remain among the safest settings in our communities," Dr. Chokshi said. "For any case identified in a New York City public school between October to December, only one in 120 close contacts developed COVID-19. That's 0.83%. Even if the rates were to become somewhat higher due to omicron becoming dominant, we estimate that, in schools, about 98% of close contacts do not end up developing COVID-19."
"This guarantees more consistency in their education," de Blasio said. "It guarantees fewer disruptions, which parents have rightfully said have been a tremendous challenge for them. And it works."
Testing will include both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, as well as teachers and staff. If there is a positive case in a classroom, all students in the class will be given at-home testing kits.
If they are asymptomatic and test negative, they can return the day after their first negative test. Students will then be given a second at-home test within seven days of their exposure.
The city's teacher's union is asking parents to give schools consent to test kids and vaccinate the youngest children now eligible.
"This is one population we're seeing a rise in hospitalizations of, it's 5- to 11 year olds. Give us the consent, do the consent, and get them vaccinated," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
Mulgrew says if the city isn't ready to launch that new plan implementing more aggressive testing next week, schools won't be ready to reopen on January 3.
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Gov. Kathy Hochul joined de Blasio for the briefing and said the state would provide the testing kits necessary. Mayor-elect Eric Adams was also in attendance, virtually, and said his office had worked closely with de Blasio's staff on the new approach.
It's a major shift in strategy, as the previous plan sent entire classrooms home to learn online when one or more students tested positive.
De Blasio said the city's disease detectives will continue to investigate when there is evidence of widespread in-school transmission, like an unusually high number of cases in a classroom or sports team.
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At an event later Tuesday, Adams said he will unveil his coronavirus policies soon and declined to comment on the current mayor's policies or mandates.
"We are going to roll out our plan," he said. "It will be a very clear plan. We are going to talk about areas, if it's how we are going to deal with employees to schools. We are going to roll it out completely."
Adams cautioned there is only so much he can do once he becomes mayor.
"We don't have the power to mandate vaccines for children," he said. "We don't have the power, believe it or not, to mandate testing for children. That is a statewide mandate."
The city reported 332 newly admitted patients for COVID-19 at hospitals, and the 7-day average of newly reported cases was 20,200.
Statewide, there were 40,780 new cases with a positivity rate of 19.33%. Hochul said 647 new hospitalizations brings the total to 6,173. It's the highest since April but still lower than at this time last year.
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