NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio said parents and students should prepare for all-remote learning as early as Monday the current spike of new coronavirus cases surpasses the predetermined threshold.
The city's rolling seven-day positivity average continues to tick upward, and de Blasio said schools will be closed to in-person learning immediately if it reaches 3%.
As of Friday, the seven-day average is 2.83% but has seen a steady rise. The daily average was over 3% at 3.09%.
"People should get ready, this is not something any parent wants to deal with. We should get ready. And parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November, that's a safe way to think about it. Have an alternative plan for beginning as early as Monday for whatever will help them get through this month if school is not open," de Blasio said.
While noting there is an "unbelievably low level of transmission in our schools," the mayor nonetheless said the city is prepared to take immediate action. But he also expressed hope for a smooth transition.
"We are already in a situation where principals and teachers knew we could teach every child remote at any point, if we had to, literally the next day," he said. "Everyone is being alerted to prepare for something more than a single snow day that could be days or weeks."
But he also seemed unwilling to potentially change the 3% threshold.
"We put out a clear standard," he said. "We are going to stick to that standard...So if we get to a closure point, we are then going to assess what we need to do to come back as quickly as possible."
Gov Cuomo suggested the city using a metric like the positivity rate in schools, which the mayor said is a very low .16%, rather than the citywide 3% rolling positivity rate when making decisions about closing schools.
"I get the parameter of 3% of citywide spread, but how about an indicator of spread in the schools themselves? I would suggest that the mayor, teachers union and the parents consider that because if schools were opened I think it would be better," Cuomo said.
The governor said closing the schools at 3% seven day positivity is the city's decision, but his priority is keeping schools open.
"I'm saying I'd like to see schools reopen," he said. "Where it is a different, more sophisticated calculation that says we are not just going to look at the infection rate in NYC or in Erie County but have a second factor, which is the infection rate within the school. I would be open to that. I would encourage the mayor and the teachers union and the parents in NYC to consider that."
The president of the teachers union, Michael Mulgrew, said he expects the city to honor its promise to shut public schools if the city's positivity rate exceeds 3%.
"That number was part of a plan that was agreed upon," UFT President Mulgrew said.
"Once we start seeing the spread in the community start going above 3%, there's a real danger it will be a tipping point and it will start to spread inside of schools," he said.
The mayor added that if schools close he wants "the fastest possible turnaround" for schools to reopen.
Mulgrew said he will want to see "a negative trend" before schools resume in-person learning.
"We need a negative trend, a series of days where we are going down. We are hoping that all the testing that is going on right now, every time you pass a City MD you are seeing long lines. We are hoping for the identification of people who have the virus and don't know it, once they isolate we will start to get that positivity rate down again and then we can reopen our schools. We worked too hard to get these schools open. We are the only large school system in the county that is open. And the teachers have gone above and beyond to get it that way. They are doing their work every day. We don't want to go back to a remote setting, but we are going to do it because we don't want what happened here in March and April to happen again. Especially now that we are seeing that light at the end of the tunnel," Mulgrew said. "We can see at the light at the end of the tunnel, we just need a couple more months of all following the rules."
In a letter sent to principals Thursday, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza instructed teachers to prepare to go remote again.
"Out of an abundance of caution, and to keep our school communities safe, I am asking all schools to be prepared for a brief time of fully remote learning, system-wide. And while no decision has been made about a system-wide transition to remote learning, as every great school leader knows, we must be prepared for every scenario," the letter read.
Carranza recommended that principals distribute the school's inventory of devices and LTE-enabled iPads to students that need them, and communicate to teachers and students the expectations of full-remote learning and their schedules before the district goes remote only.
Parents who work outside the home say they need the schools to stay open for child care reasons, but that isn't the real issue.
They say the mayor should be more worried about children's emotional health which they say suffered greatly during last year's shutdown.
Karen Vaits said her 3rd-grade daughter showed signs of childhood depression when she couldn't go to school, and even going for five or six days each month this school year has given her something to look forward to.
"When she went back to school, the amount of additional joy that we saw in her each week...the difference in her happiness -- it's noticeable," Vaits said.
De Blasio also addressed the concerns over COVID fatigue among the population.
"Everyone's having a tough time," he said. We're all trying to figure out how to address a crisis that keeps changing, and the obvious and legitimate fatigue that people are feeling. But that said, we also see the same pattern in this city, and this is different than a lot of other places. You know, you could have seen a lot of places after what we went through in March and April, a lot of places just could have given up. New Yorkers fought back."
Several states have kept schools open for in-person learning in areas where there are far more infections per capita than in New York City. While the city has seen an increase in cases lately, it still ranks far better than most other places in the country.
De Blasio said it was "crucial" to adhere to the standard he set over the summer. If a shutdown does happen, "we're going to figure out what it takes to come back as quickly as possible," he said.
Urban school districts across the country are altering in-person plans as virus caseloads continue to rise. Detroit Public Schools on Thursday joined a growing list of districts shifting to remote learning, telling students to stay home until Jan. 11. Philadelphia administrators on Tuesday scrapped plans to start bringing students back November 30. Minneapolis Public Schools on Monday put an indefinite hold on efforts to bring more children back to school. Boston public schools switched back to all-remote learning Oct. 22.
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