Cuomo outlines plan to reopen schools in New York

Chris Sommerfeldt and Dave Goldiner, New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a data-driven plan on Monday for reopening New York schools that hinges on consistently dropping coronavirus infection rates, mandates for face mask usage in classrooms and daily screenings of staff and students.

First off, schools can only resume in-person learning in the fall if they’re in regions that have entered Phase 4 of the state’s economic reopening process, Cuomo said in a briefing from his Manhattan office. As of this week, the city is the only region that hasn’t yet met the benchmarks to start that phase.

Secondly, schools only get the green light to open if their region’s daily coronavirus infection rate stays below 5%, as calculated from the number of tests that come back positive over a two-week span, according to the guidelines unveiled by Cuomo.

“That means the virus is under control and the schools can reopen,” Cuomo said.

Once a region has met those thresholds, its schools can open their doors, but teachers and students alike will have to wear face masks when social distancing can’t be maintained, Cuomo said.

Students and staff will also have their temperatures checked at the start of every day and schools will have to develop rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols while ensuring social distancing is maintained to the greatest extent possible, according to the guidelines. Some remote learning will likely continue into the fall, Cuomo said.

The governor said he’ll announce at the beginning of next month which regions are ready to have their schools reopen for the fall semester.

Schools will have to shut back down if their regions see infection rates spike above 9%, as calculated over a seven-day average, according to the guidelines.

Contrasting himself against President Donald Trump, Cuomo said his plan is “based on the data and it’s based on the science.”

“We talked about reopening the economy and he said ‘just reopen, just reopen the economy’ … We saw how well that worked,” Cuomo said. “On schools, what does he say? ‘Reopen the schools, just open them up, don’t worry.’ He was wrong on the economic reopening and he was wrong on the schools reopening.”

The governor added: “We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.”

Cuomo’s school announcement came as New York’s coronavirus rates continued to trend in the right direction.

The number of New Yorkers hospitalized for COVID-19 dropped to 792 on Sunday, the lowest level since March 18, and only seven people in the state died from the virus, Cuomo reported.

The statewide infection rate remained just above 1%, Cuomo added. In the city, the infection rate hovered around 1.3%.

“So it’s all good news,” he said.

However, since most other parts of the country are seeing surges in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Cuomo also announced he’s stepping up enforcement of the two-week quarantine requirement for travelers arriving in New York from 19 states with high infections rates.

A new executive order Cuomo said he will sign requires travelers from those states to provide local authorities with contact information as well as the location where they plan to quarantine. Failure to comply will be punishable by $2,000 fines and the possibility of court hearings.

Travelers who arrive by plane will receive forms to fill out at the airport, Cuomo said. Travelers arriving by car will have to submit the information online.

Cuomo noted that a coronavirus outbreak in upstate Rensselaer County has been traced to a group of residents who recently returned from Georgia, where they apparently contracted COVID-19.

Even as he gave New Yorkers hope that students can return to classrooms soon, Cuomo harshly attacked Trump for mismanaging the pandemic and ignoring science in a politically motivated push to reopen the economy.

“Trump’s COVID scandal makes what Nixon did at Watergate look innocent,” Cuomo said, referring to the disgraced 37th president. “No one died at Watergate.”

As of Monday afternoon, nearly 136,000 Americans had died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker.

Cuomo shared the spotlight at his Manhattan press conference with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose family was infected with COVID-19 after one of her children became an asymptomatic victim.

Bottoms, joining Cuomo via videostream, bemoaned a lack of leadership from Trump.

But she also pointed fingers at Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has balked at social distancing restrictions and mandatory mask regulations even as the pandemic spikes dramatically.

“I’m seeing numbers I hadn’t seen since April,” Bottoms said. “We’re heading in the wrong direction as a city.”


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