NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City is teetering on the brink of a second wave of coronavirus infection, but it’s not bad enough to close the schools — yet.
Still, there are question about why there’s a need to close the schools when officials insist they’re safe.
As CBS2’s political reporter Marcia Kramer reported Monday, New York City schools like Riverdale Middle School will be open Tuesday, and it will remain open until the infection rate in New York City gets to 3%.
“We’ve got a fight ahead to keep them open, but I’m not giving up, and you shouldn’t give up either,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. “Every day that we can keep our schools open is a blessing for our children and our families.”
The mayor is sticking to that, even though the infection rate in schools is a whole lot lower.
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“We also said that we would hold to a 3% threshold. We said that to give people confidence that we will put health and safety first, and we have put health and safety first and we will put health and safety first. So we’re sticking to that threshold,” de Blasio said.
Mayor de Blasio is keeping a promise he made to the unions, the teachers and parents: Schools will close and move to all-remote learning if the positive infection rate is 3%.
The infection rate Sunday was 2.77%, so schools remain open for in-person learning for the 300,000 or so students who chose that option.
But many wonder: Why close schools when they are a whole lot safer? The positive test rate in New York City schools was 0.19% through Nov. 12, and it was even 0.25% on Staten Island, where 80% of the borough is in a yellow zone.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is asking the same question, saying schools are among the safest places in the city.
“What I am suggesting to the parents and to the teachers and the mayor is let’s take a second calculus, which is the infection rate in the schools,” Cuomo said.
The mayor seems to be trying to straddle a fence that to some may seem illogical: Keep a promise to the unions, but find a way to reopen quickly.
Both City Hall and union sources say that right now there is no reopening plan, but the mayor is hoping it will involve more testing. It could be something like what Gov. Cuomo did with some of his red zone micro-clusters.
“So if you hit 4%, you’re in a red zone. But the school does its own test, and if the school is below a certain number, we allow the school to open. I think that makes sense,” Cuomo said.
“We’re going to look at different approaches, including what’s happening in the schools across the board and then what’s going on in specific schools, and what we can do to ensure they are safe, including potentially additional testing,” de Blasio said. “The state put forward that standard for the red zones, and that model could make a lot of sense here.”
Kramer asked de Blasio if he was considering the Cuomo model.
“Are you saying if you had to close schools when it goes to 3%, you will try to evaluate the schools and the ability to test and you might be able to come back even though the numbers might be over 3%?” Kramer asked.
“Yes, you hit the nail on the head,” de Blasio said.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told Kramer he wouldn’t agree to reopen schools until there was a downward trend that lasted seven to 10 days. Otherwise, he said, you could find yourself opening and reopening schools, and that doesn’t help anyone.
The UFT previously said it’s sticking with the 3% standard because city schools have a higher density than other regions.
“There’s been an ongoing dialogue. I think there’s a tremendous concern for health and safety for everyone in the school community. There’s also consistently an understanding that in-person learning achieves much more for children than remote,” the mayor said Monday.
De Blasio also said the city needs to make safety a priority in the face of a second wave.
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“There is a second wave bearing down on us, we’re trying to beat it back. We said we would make health and safety the priority, we said we would hold this standard,” he said. “If we surpass that standard — and that is not a given — but if we do, the conversation we’re having with the state is how to quickly come back and what it’s going to take.”
He was asked whether his plan could be overruled by the governor.
“Of course, the governor has the power in so many areas because of this crisis in his emergency powers to make a range of decisions. But, we’ve talked it through, our teams have talked it through, and I think there’s a broad agreement,” he said.
Statewide, the threshold to close schools is 5%, following World Health Organization guidelines.
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