Coronavirus NYC: Some schools go fully remote amid uptick in COVID-19 cases, exposures

Coronavirus Update for New York City
NEW YORK (WABC) -- More school buildings, some of which house classrooms and others early childhood or learning bridge centers, have closed for in-person instruction as of Tuesday because of COVID-19 cases and exposures.

Schools were informed by the Department of Education that the mandatory closure time for school buildings with multiple unrelated cases will decrease from 14 days to 10 days, based on shifting federal guidance.

The current total stands at 138 buildings that are shuttered to students, which is less than 5% of the total number of schools that had been expected to open their doors Tuesday.

That means 95% of the city's elementary schools and early childhood programs are open for in person learning, despite the test positivity rate continuing to creep up in the city.

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Just how high the positivity rolling average is depends on whether you look at the city's or state numbers. The city report stands at 9.3%, while the state's latest number for the city is 6%.

"It's a real problem when the state and city use different measures to determine the rate of coronavirus infection," United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said. "Given the fact that all the other communities in the state use the state methodology, New York City should adopt it also. Using that state measure, if the community infection rate in the city hits 9%, the safe thing to do is to close the schools, even if the in-school rate is lower. Safety comes first, as shown by the fact that hundreds of our elementary schools and classrooms are closed temporarily every day because the virus has been detected. That is how we have stopped the spread of the virus inside our schools. The real answer for New York is making the vaccine immediately available to all school personnel. We can't let bureaucratic snarls and procedural delays endanger the safety of students, school staff and their families."

The in-school rate is much lower, with weekly testing and strict guidelines. Mayor Bill de Blasio says it's below 1%, and despite the UFT's call to use the same numbers, the mayor has not indicated that will happen.

"The state sets the rules, and the state numbers are what the state has been making its decisions based on," he said. "Obviously, their number is very different. But the central point is the safety of our schools."

Parents at PS 7 in the Bronx say they're keeping an eye on both numbers.

"I don't know why they're different, but I understand that they are," parent Matt Hammond said. "It's hard to follow, daughter's school has been pretty good about getting the information out to us."

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Administrators say that's just one of the challenges of running a school in a pandemic.

"You know things just change from one day to another," principal Miosotis Ramos said. "Sometimes late at night, sometimes after we've dismissed children, now we have to scramble and get in touch with parents."

PS 7 did have to close briefly last month because of some exposures.

"They were pretty quick to pull the plug and say we're going completely remote," Hammond said. "But that was only for one week."

They say they're just grateful school is open and has managed to stay pretty safe, and that they're willing to roll with the changes.

"I feel like we're all just playing it by ear right now," a mother named Destiny said. "When's the last time a pandemic happened that we're alive to see? We've just got to figure it out the best way we can."

The teachers' union said it will set up its own vaccination program and hopes to get public school teachers vaccinated as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education released a statement on the updated CDC guidance to close schools for 10 days instead of 14:

"Rigorous weekly in-school testing and quarantines issued by the Situation Room work alongside universal use of face coverings, hand washing, and social distancing to keep our schools safe. The CDC as well as our State and City Health Departments recommended moving to a 10 day quarantine period and we are following suit."

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