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Mayor, Schools Chancellor Announce School Closure Plan

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Mayor Bill de Blasio makes announcement with Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter.

Video Transcript

- Mayor de Blasio is giving an update on the coronavirus in New York City. Let's go to it now.

BILL DE BLASIO: I'm going up to the Bronx in a little bit to attend a plaque dedication ceremony for firefighter, Christopher Slutman, a hero of this city who did so much for us. You'll see on your screen, I had the honor of meeting him and awarding him with the Fire Chiefs Association Medal in 2014 for extraordinary acts of courage as a truly dedicated New York City firefighter.

He proudly wore two uniforms for 15 years, veteran of the FDNY, a firefighter, who cared deeply for the people of this city, protecting them, loved being a New York City firefighter, believed in the FDNY, but also, dedicated his life to protecting his country as a staff sergeant in the United States Marines and tragically lost his life serving us overseas. So we will dedicate a plaque to him today in his memory to keep his memory alive, and we'll be there to support his family, and may he rest in peace.

On a happier note, yesterday, another sign of the rebirth of New York City, another sign of a recovery for all of us, the comeback happening in this city. And so many New Yorkers are involved in bringing this city back, but what you're seeing, especially these last few weeks is our cultural community stepping forward with so much passion and energy-- our artists, our performers who want to make this city live again, vibrant again. We talk about that great phrase from the theater, "The show must go on!" Well, the show will go on in New York City, and you're seeing it more and more every day.

So Lincoln Center, first live performance. The restart stages at Lincoln Center, so exciting. The New York Philharmonic was there, and it was a beautiful concert on a beautiful day, a symbol of our comeback. And I want to thank Lincoln Center. They focused the first concert on thanking our health care heroes. So the audience was made up of health care workers who have been part of the fight against COVID and who saw this city through. And Lincoln Center is focused on a recovery for all of us, on our recovery with equity, and I thank them for that commitment.

But it was just beautiful to hear the live music again, one of the greatest philharmonics anywhere in the world. And it was a special, special moment and a sign of many more things to come. There's going to be an extraordinary amount of outdoor performance this year in New York City, so get ready for an amazing summer.

Now, let me give you update on vaccinations. Effort continues to grow every day, which is fantastic. We're getting near the 5 million vaccination mark. Of course, our overall goal is 5 million fully vaccinated New Yorkers by June, but in terms of individual doses, today a very good number, 4,738,246 doses since the beginning of the vaccination effort, more doses than there are people in the State of Louisiana, the home State of our health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi. You've made Louisiana proud.

Now, everyone, we're really focused on our seniors. Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Varma, our whole team said at the very beginning, the number one most vulnerable group is our seniors, particularly our oldest seniors. So again, for seniors 75 years old and up, we're doing walk-up appointments now, and this has proven to be very popular, very effective, really helpful for the seniors. We're going to expand it even further, even more than we talked about yesterday. Now, we're going from the original 3 sites to 26 sites around the city, where a senior can walk up, get an appointment right away, get vaccinated.

But we're adding something more because a lot of seniors need someone to come with them, a loved one, a companion an aide, someone to come with them. Guess what? The companion now can also get vaccinated on the spot. So if you are 75 years or older and you come with a companion, both of you will be guaranteed to be vaccinated right there at that site. No appointment necessary. Just walk up.

This is going to really encourage seniors to come out. We want to really get to every senior we can. And again, we continue to do a lot more outreach to seniors. We're going to keep doing that, as long as it takes. We continue to set aside appointments for seniors at all our vaccination sites. This is so important. We're going to stick with it until the job is done.

Now, another absolutely crucial part of a recovery for all of us is bringing back our public schools now and we'll be talking soon about what we're going to do this summer, and then we'll be talking more about what we're going to do in September. But our public schools are the anchor of everything that happens in New York City, and I say that proudly. As a New York City public school parent, when my kids went to school, we continue to bring our schools back, and they continue to be safe.

Because of the extraordinary efforts of our educators, our staff, our parents, our kids, our health care professionals, we've set a gold standard from the beginning. We said we would take the best health care practices from around the world, apply all of them in the New York City public schools. It has worked. They are the safest places to be in New York City, literally. And we want to keep getting more and more kids back.

What we heard from parents, as they wanted to come back, they're really concerned about the school schedules. They're really concerned about the instability in those schedules, the unpredictability, and they wanted to know that we could keep everyone safe, first and foremost, but also have a more stable and consistent schedule.

And so earlier this week, I announced the end of the 2-case closure rule. Today we're going to be talking about the new rule that will be in place that will help to keep schools open, while simultaneously keeping them safe at all times. So for individual classrooms, we'll still have a very strict closure rule. One confirmed case means going remote. After 10 days, the classroom comes back.

For the entire school, if there are two cases or three cases in a week, that will lead to an increase in testing, but not a closure. If there's four or more cases and they're in different classrooms and can be traced to a known exposure within the school, that's when there will be a closure, and our health care team will speak more about this in a moment. Again, in every instance where there's any kind of closure, after 10 days, the school is back open.

So this will help us to have more consistency in school attendance and schedules, keep strong health and safety standards. Our situation room, as always, will be monitoring closely. And we worked with the unions who represent the folks who educate our kids and take care of our kids, the educators and staff of our schools. We worked with the unions to work through these issues, to find an approach that would really focus on health and safety for all adults and children alike.

Thank God we now have over 65,000 adults that have been vaccinated in our schools. That's a great step, but we really work together with the unions to figure out the right approach going forward. And there's a lot more we'll be doing with the unions and with all the stakeholders in the school community to ensure additional supports for our kids, both academically and in terms of their emotional needs, their mental health needs. Because we're going to be asking a lot of our educators and our school staff as school comes back. We need to be there for them too, providing the proper supports so that kids and families have what they need and we can have an extraordinary school year ahead, particularly, when we start in September.

So we'll have more to say on that. But in the meantime, I want you to hear from our chancellor and our health commissioner, what this means, this new approach. And the chancellor, again, has been doing a wonderful job, and when she speaks about this, she speaks as chancellor, she speaks as a lifelong educator, as a product of New York City public schools, and as a New York City public school parent, simultaneously. Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter.

MEISHA ROSS PORTER: Thank you, Mayor de Blasio, and I'm excited in all of those roles to be announcing the changes today. Our entire community from custodians, school safety workers, teachers, and just really want to thank the situation room, have put in a tremendous amount of work and effort to make sure our schools are safe for both students and staff. And we know that the multi-tiered, gold-standard approach to health and safety is working.

We have said since the beginning of this pandemic that we will make science-driven adjustments, as our public health experts learn more about this disease and how it impacts our schools. Following the guidance from the CDC and our own public health experts, we can now confidently make updates to our closure policies and adapt to deliver a more targeted, precise response to situations in our school communities.

As the mayor said, schools will only close if there are four or more cases in different classrooms in a school within seven days that can be traced to exposure inside the school. Additionally, this rule applies to individual schools as opposed to the entire building. If cases are reported and investigation takes place, but the whole school does not need to close for 24 hours while that is ongoing. And I know all of the parents along with me are shouting a big hooray for that.

To be clear, classroom quarantines will continue. If a positive case is identified in a classroom, we must still assume that everyone is a close contact in this case. To keep schools safe, we are going to continue to lean on our partners at the situation room and Test & Trace. In-schools testing has kept us safe all year, and it will continue to keep us safe going forward, allowing us to make smart, informed decisions about closures.

In the event that over seven days, there are two or three positive cases in different classrooms, weekly random testing will double to 40% of the staff and students in the school. As I said on Monday, this consistency will do wonders for families, students, teachers, and principals. We've seen the studies, consulted with medical experts, and based this change on guidance from the CDC.

And we've heard the voices of our school communities, calling for increased stability around in-person learning as long as we can do so safely. This is exactly what this change represents. Fewer closures mean consistency and stability for students, staff, families, and more days in classrooms for New York City's children. And I happen to know one little Jayden is going to be really excited about that.

This change will go into effect on Monday. We will continue with universal mask usage, social distancing, weekly testing, and quick intervention by the situation room to quarantine classes and schools when needed. And we now have an added layer of protection, over 65,000 DOE employees vaccinated, and those numbers are growing every day.

We know this policy will mean a lot to families, to students, and to all of our school communities. That is why we are also extending the opt-in period for families to come back to in-person instruction until Friday. Again, the deadline to opt in is tomorrow, and you can do that by visiting our website or calling 311, and we look forward to welcoming you back to school.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you so much, Chancellor, and thank you for giving everyone a really clear update on the changes and how we're going to move forward together. I want you to hear from our health commissioner. He is, not only our health commissioner, not only a parent who also happens to be married to a New York City public school assistant principal. So he cares deeply about health and safety in our schools, and he's been working with us closely on this new approach. My pleasure to introduce Dr. Dave Chokshi.

DAVE CHOKSHI: Thanks so much, Mr. Mayor. And that's right. As a city's doctor, as a parent, and as the husband of an educator, there's nothing more important to me than keeping our youngest New Yorkers safe. As long as COVID is still in our city, we must remain disciplined about keeping the virus from spreading.

But the good news is that when it comes to schools, we have proven to be able to do just that. When our multiple layers of public health precautions are followed-- masking, ventilation, distancing, testing-- the virus does not spread easily in schools. As every parent knows, closures also puts stress on the entire household. Our goal will always be to keep schools open as much as possible by keeping them safe.

We will continue to have the most rigorous measures of any public school system in the nation. Our classroom and school closure rules will remain stricter than the CDC's recommendation. So today's new policy strikes the right balance, to keep our kids and educators safe. And getting more and more New Yorkers vaccinated will fuel this and other virtuous cycles promoting health. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you so much, Dr. Chokshi. I'm going to actually ask the chancellor if you have that website ready. If not-- I think we put it up on the screen. Did we put up on the screen the website for parents to opt in? Yes, there it is. OK, Chancellor, we're good.

Up on the screen, again, is the website. I want to remind all parents, you have until the end of the day tomorrow, the end of the day tomorrow for the opt-in if you want your kids to come back to in-person learning. Again, we're asking parents across all grade levels to let us know your preferences. We are starting with elementary school, obviously, still waiting for the final sign-off from the State, but we're getting ready to go, and we'll be having more to say soon on middle and high school going forward.

But the bottom line here is if you want your kids back in in-person learning and they're fully remote now, this is the last chance to do it. We don't anticipate another opt-in from this point on. So I want to be really clear with parents. Till the end of the day tomorrow, Friday, this should be the last chance to opt-in for this school year up until June.

Final statement I'll make because parents ask me all the time and I like to keep saying it, our goal and our belief is that we will be back full strength in September. Every child who wants to be in school will be able to be in school five days a week. Everything we're seeing now points us in that direction, and we're particularly thrilled with the level of vaccination we're now seeing in the city, which is going to make it possible. We're absolutely confident in our goal, 5 million New Yorkers fully vaccinated in June. So we're moving forward, and if you want to opt-in, here's your chance.

Now, everyone, on a somber note-- and this is important before I go to indicators in just a second-- today is Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yom HaShoah is a very somber time and a time for reflection and a time for memory and memory that teaches us something. If you've been, as I have been, to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, extraordinarily powerful, painful experience. But it speaks to not just a sense of long-ago history, but how much we need to learn the lessons still and act on them, how much anti-Semitism is still way too strong in this country and in this world, how much we have to be there for those who have suffered from the Holocaust and how we have to fight the scourge of anti-Semitism with all our hearts all the time.

New York City has a distinction or several distinctions. One, more Jewish people live in New York City than any city in the world, within the city limits New York City, even more than Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. And New York City is a home to more Holocaust survivors than any place outside of Israel. We remember these Holocaust survivors constantly, and we have had a dedicated focused effort to get them vaccinated, to protect them.

We've been working very closely with the Claims Conference and the Jewish Community Relations Council and a number of other organizations. I want to thank all of them for their tremendous partnership in helping us achieve this, more than 2,700 vaccinations so far of Holocaust survivors and more to come. And the last thing I want to say about this is, when I spoke with some of the survivors at the vaccination sites and at other sites where they were getting support, it was so striking to me that this history is so recent. And this keeps making me realize how much we all have to do together, how much we have to fight hate in all its forms. And we're seeing this horrible hatred directed at the Asian-American community.

All hatred must be stopped because hatred towards one community is a threat to all communities. But I spoke with a woman, Celia Jankowitz, 97 years old. You see a picture of her there. She survived Auschwitz. We had an amazing conversation full of faith and energy. She is so happy to be alive, happy that people are helping her. She kept her faith even after she survived the horrors of Auschwitz.

I met Sara Teichmann, who survived the Bergen-Belsen Camp, the same thing, full of life and energy and hope. I met Fredricka Chabris, who survived only because her mother smuggled her out of the Warsaw ghetto in a potato sack as a small child. And when you hear these amazing stories of strength, resiliency, survival, it's inspiring, but it's also a reminder to us that the work of fighting anti-Semitism and the work of fighting hatred continues, and it's not long-ago history. It's history that should tell us what we need to do right now.

Let's turn to indicators. Number one, daily number of people admitted in New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19. Today's report, 200 patients exactly. That's right at the threshold, and we want to get under that threshold consistently. Confirmed positivity, 54.03%. Hospitalization rate, 3.53 per 100,000. new reported cases on a seven-day average, today's report, 2,904 cases. percentage of people testing positive citywide for COVID-19, today's report on a seven-day rolling average, 6.32%.

A few words in Spanish on the new rules related to schools being open.

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

With that, we will turn to our colleagues in the media, and please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.

- We'll now begin our Q&A. As a reminder, we're joined today by Dr. Chokshi, by Chancellor Porter, by Dr. Mitchell Katz, and by senior advisor, Dr. Jay Varma. First question today goes to Andrea from WCBS.

ANDREA GRYMES: Good morning.

BILL DE BLASIO: Hi, Andrea. How are you doing?

ANDREA GRYMES: Great. I'm great. So before, children were not as impacted by COVID when compared to adults. But now with the emergence of these variants, especially the one that originated in the UK, we're seeing a surge in cases among kids. So how is the school system factoring in these new developments during this push to bring more students back to school in person?

BILL DE BLASIO: I'm going to turn to Dr. Jay Varma. I want you to know that topic is something we've talked about a lot, and Dr. Varma has been monitoring the situation all around the world. And in fact, he did a scholarly paper on the experiences we've had in New York City that have helped us to understand how to keep schools safe. So he can give you a sense of how we're looking at those trends and addressing them. Dr. Varma.

JAY VARMA: Great. Thank you very much for the question. And to reiterate what we've said many times before, we are concerned about the evolution of the virus, the emergence of new variants, and how they can impact our city. From everything we have done so far involved in our school system, we have shown that despite the surge of the second wave, we were able to keep schools safe during that time. And I think it's because we adopted this gold-standard approach at the beginning of the year.

Now, what this change allows us to do is to end the era of disruptive 24-hour closures. We've documented the harm that can occur, from disrupting the social, emotional, and educational development of children, and we're balancing that with the data that we've learned from over 700,000 tests, hundreds of case investigations, and really the close partnership with our colleagues in the union and with families.

So I do feel confident that we can continue to apply very rigorous safety standards that will keep our schools safe, even though the virus is fighting back by evolving and changing, and of course, to always emphasize the fact that we are grounded in data and science. If new things emerge, new information emerges, we're always going to adjust our protocols to match and maximize health and safety.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead, Andrea.

ANDREA GRYMES: Yeah, question is just for clarification because under one of the parameters, it was saying that contact tracing has to be linked to the school before a certain action is taken. Can you explain that? Because contact tracing is an inexact science, so can you explain that in kind of what the tiers are and what it will take for schools to close and how you're making sure, if there are positive cases in the school, you're going to keep students and the staff safe.

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, and let me just say on these technical questions, very valid questions, I'm going to turn to Dr. Varma because he's been deeply, deeply involved in all of our conversations and calls on this topic. If Dr. Chokshi or Dr. Katz have anything you want to add, just speak up each time of you, if you want to jump in. Dr. Varma, take that first.

JAY VARMA: So you're exactly right. A lot of what we do in public health is, what we are doing is we are taking science and we're applying it in the real world. And then the challenge, of course, is that it is imperfect, and that's actually one of the important reasons why we are changing the rules. Because it is extremely difficult to know with 100% certainty where every single case got their infection. What we've learned from our investigations, of course, is that oftentimes, people have had potentially many exposures during the period in which they might have gotten infected.

Now, that said, we also know that because our school community is a sort of more regulated setting. People are going to those places on a very regular basis. A large number of our cases, of course, are in children also, and their activities are closely monitored, unlike say, in adults who may not know all the places that we've been.

We are able to take that information and to draw reasonable conclusions. And so that's why we have this criteria that we've put in there that we have to have traced their exposure to the school, and it has to have occurred in multiple different places around the school, so that is four or more classrooms, for us to make the very difficult decision to actually move the entire school to remote learning.

So we recognize that there are imperfections in this and that some of this is an art, but we also feel like we've gained enough experience and knowledge that we can do this in a way that is safe and ensures stability.

BILL DE BLASIO: Dr. Chokshi.

DAVE CHOKSHI: Thank you, sir. I just wanted to emphasize one of the things that Dr. Varma said about this, which is, what this represents overall is really a stepped approach with respect to health and safety. The baseline is those multiple layers of protection that we've talked about. That applies to every child, every school. And then we can bring to bear additional interventions, starting with greater testing, but then moving on to quarantining classrooms when that's necessary, and then ultimately, quarantining schools as well.

And we move along that spectrum, depending on the level of transmission that we see. That's our overall approach to making sure that the intensity of our intervention is matched up to what we're actually seeing with respect to the virus.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead.

- Next, is Michael Gartland from "The Daily News."

MICHAEL GARTLAND: Good morning, guys.

BILL DE BLASIO: Hey, Michael. How you been?

MICHAEL GARTLAND: I'm good. I wanted to ask you a follow-up to a couple of questions Juliet Papa asked yesterday. Over the past few months, you put-- and arguably longer than that-- a lot of emphasis on mental health and trauma-informed care. Yet yesterday, when Juliet asked you about New Yorkers living in fear over violence in the city, you said that you didn't think that was what's going on. We interviewed some people yesterday who said that that is going on, that they do live in fear.

And so I mean, my question is, we talked to the family of this five-year-old girl who got shot in the head. She got grazed by a bullet in East New York. I mean, how can you say that people aren't living in fear when a five-year-old child is shot? I mean, on top of it all, I mean, we have the pandemic going on, and I just talked to a neighbor yesterday whose daughter is afraid to go back to school because of the virus.

So I'm just wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit.

BILL DE BLASIO: Sure. I appreciate the question, Michael. First of all, it was horrible what happened to that little five-year-old, and thank God, she's going to be OK. But look, there are places where there's too much violence, and we are going to deal with it. We have to, and there's clearly a lot of anxiety about COVID. We've been talking about that now for over a year and talking about the mental health support we need to provide to families and provide to children coming back to school. I think we've talked a lot about this and moved a lot of effort and resources to address the mental health challenges.

What I was saying Michael, and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify is, new Yorkers, yeah, we have a lot of challenges we have to overcome, but we overcome them. We went through a horrible perfect storm last year. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong at once, whether it was the pandemic, the violence, people losing their jobs, schools being closed, and New Yorkers fought through it. So is there anxiety? Of course. Is there fear? Yes, I'm not saying there's not any. I'm saying New Yorkers don't get intimidated. We fight back.

And the comeback you're seeing this year is obvious and powerful, but we're going to address all of these issues, the mental health needs of families and kids, the shootings, we're getting out there and more and more gun arrests by the NYPD and more cooperation with community and police together and more [INAUDIBLE] violence and crisis management system, and we will turn it around. Go ahead, Michael.

MICHAEL GARTLAND: Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Switching gears here, I wanted to ask you about a story that came out in "The City" today about Maya Wiley's involvement with vetting Campaign For One New York fundraisers. And in this story, she says that her advice as far as keeping the administration within the ethical boundaries for Coney fundraising was not always followed.

And the story also touches on contradictory statements you and she made that were cited in a DUI report a few years back. Can you address that? I mean, she's saying advice is not always followed. Is that true?

BILL DE BLASIO: You know, Michael, we've talked about this so many times. I'm going to keep it real simple. She and other lawyers worked hard to make sure that everything was handled properly. Everyone on the team, myself included, worked hard to implement all guidance properly. All of this was looked at. I think it's quite clear that it's been addressed, and we're just moving forward.

- The next is Reema from "Chalkbeat."

REEMA AMIN: Hi, everyone. How's it going today?

BILL DE BLASIO: Good, Reema. How are you doing?

REEMA AMIN: Good. I'm glad to hear details on the 2-case rule, so I was happy about that.

BILL DE BLASIO: We told you they'd be soon coming.

REEMA AMIN: Well, you know. OK, so someone already asked this, but I wanted to just follow up. I believe Andrea from CBS asked this, but when we're talking about tracing exposure to classrooms, Dr. Varma said that, of course, you have to consider real-world circumstances and that someone may have been exposed elsewhere.

So I'm curious. If you have a situation where a child may have been exposed in the school, but it's also possible they could have been exposed at home or somewhere else, in that case, what would happen? Would that person count as having potentially gotten it at the school, and that would count as someone towards the building closure?

BILL DE BLASIO: Go ahead, Dr. Varma.

JAY VARMA: Great. Thank you very much. You're absolutely right, and unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to give you a precise formula for this. Because as we've mentioned before, it really depends on how we weigh different pieces of evidence. Let's use the example that you gave. If the child did have an exposure in their home, that is a close family member was a known confirmed case, then we would assume that that case is linked to that household. And that's because we know that household transmission is the single strongest risk factor for getting this infection.

Now, if the situation was different, and in fact, we knew that, for example, in the classroom, that there had been-- or I'm sorry, or an after school activity or something other related to the school, there has been an exposure there, but there were no documented exposures in any other situation. Because we know some children really only spent time in their homes and in the school, we would be more inclined to implicate the school as that source. But the reality is, there is no specific, precise formula. It's the reason we have extremely well-trained staff from the health department, from the Test & Trace Corp, and from the school system all working together in a situation room so they can adjudicate these cases on a case-by-case basis.

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, Reema, look, this has been an ongoing effort and I talked about it yesterday, the fact that as Dr. Katz has talked about, the medical community has learned so much in the last year dealing with COVID. No one would have ever wanted this challenge, but they've taken on the challenge, learned a lot, made a lot of adjustments, are able to deal with COVID a lot better. Test & Trace Corp has been extraordinary, and they got started in June. They've learned so much in most of the year they've been here. They've been able to figure out how to address things better and better through experience.

But one thing we know is the very, very low level of infection in the schools was striking. And whatever else was happening in the larger community, the level in the infection in the school stayed very, very low. And we brought back middle school. We brought back high school. It just stayed low, and we believe it's all those measures that we put in place.

But now, a huge X factor, 65,000 adults vaccinated. I think that number could be substantially more. It's just people we haven't gotten the report on and more getting vaccinated all the time. So all of this was factored into thinking about how we could make changes that would keep schools open more often, but also be safe. Go ahead, Reema.

REEMA AMIN: So my second question is about the number threshold. I've talked to some public health experts and epidemiologists who looked at the rule before it was changed today and thought it was conservative, but also that a numerical threshold doesn't really make sense, that it's more about doing individual investigations in classrooms, which it sounds like that's part of some of what the city is going to be doing and perhaps has been doing. But can you explain the rationale behind having this number four as a threshold versus just something else?

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, Reema, I'll start and turn to Dr. Varma. Anything that Dr. Katz or Dr. Chokshi, you want to add, obviously, again, just raise your hand. Our standard was arguably the most conservative in the nation and served well, but also had some unintended consequences. And that, again, was a standard set. At the very beginning when we had to find our way, remember, we opened our public schools in this city when few major cities dared to try. But we knew we could do it safely. We've proven that.

We've also seen that we've had a number of developments now helping us like vaccination, but by any measure, our standards were extraordinarily conservative. And even this new standard is much more conservative than some of the national guidance. So we do feel though it strikes a good balance. Dr. Varma.

JAY VARMA: Yes, thank you very much for the question. And the simple reality is that in an ideal world, every situation could be managed on a case-by-case basis. You'd be able to accumulate all of the information and be able to make a decision rapidly with all of that. But the reality is that we're dealing with the largest, diverse, and most complex school system in the country. We have lots of investigations that occur and need to happen rapidly so that we can get information to staff and to families as quickly as possible. Because anytime there are cases, there are people appropriately concerned and worried about their potential risk.

So we do have to balance the epidemiologic science, which says exactly as you have noted that every situation should be managed on its own with a very real-world need to actually be able to get decisions made quickly, that we can transmit information to different audiences rapidly, and we can make interventions we need to reduce the risk of an outbreak occurring. So yes, in an ideal world, we would be able to manage everything on a case-by-case basis, but we also have to balance how we can do this efficiently and appropriately as best we can. And we feel quite strongly that we're be able to strike that balance.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead.

- The next is Katherine Fung from WNYC.

KATHERINE FUNG: Hi. I have a question about how the classroom quarantine will work in upper grades, where students switch classes, and there is one case. Does that mean that the sixth, perhaps multiple classes that a student is in would have to quarantine?

BILL DE BLASIO: Katherine, I'll turn to Dr. Varma, but just want to make sure I understand. You're saying, for example, high schools, where kids need to take more specialized classes and move around a little more. Is that what you're saying?

KATHERINE FUNG: Right. Like if they move around to four different classrooms a day, does that mean that all four teachers in all four classrooms would then have to quarantine?

BILL DE BLASIO: Go ahead, Dr. Varma.

JAY VARMA: Yes, this is actually what we have as our current rule right now is that if a person was in a shared classroom space for somebody, then they are considered a close contact. And this is a conservative definition, but it is one that we chose because of the primacy of health and safety. And so it is true that in situations where somebody was in multiple different classrooms, all of those classrooms would be considered exposed.

It's one of the reasons that pods are so important, particularly in the younger years, but obviously, this becomes much more difficult to maintain as kids advance in their education and need to get specialized classroom instruction.

BILL DE BLASIO: And I appreciate the answer. And Katherine, again, reminding you that we have an X factor here we didn't have when we started, which is a vast number of adults who have been vaccinated and how that's going to help us. And Dr. Varma, very quickly, just remind everyone from the study you did, how much of the transmission in schools was adults versus kids?

JAY VARMA: Yes, correct. So we did a detailed investigation involving very complex analyses from October through December of all the cases in our schools, and we found that 78% of the events in which there was likely transmission in the school, the original case or the index case was an adult, so either a staff person transmitting to another staff person or staff transmitting to a child. And this is very much aligns with what we've seen in studies done throughout the United States, as well as the UK, Germany, Australia, in many other settings, which is that while it is true that children can bring an infection to the school and even cause outbreaks, the majority of the time that there are transmission events, they are introduced by adults.

And so that's one of the reasons it's so important for us to have vaccinations for adults.

BILL DE BLASIO: So yeah, Katherine, that was a big part of our thinking, that knowing that based on a lot of research locally, before there were vaccinations, now, 65,000 vaccinations, that's a game changer. Go ahead, Katherine.

KATHERINE FUNG: Thank you. So the CDC calls for basing COVID policy for schools on the number of cases per 100,000 residents. So for example, based on that guidance, indoor sports should currently be canceled on Staten Island. So why doesn't the city just move to a case-rate style policy?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, just to say real quick and I'll turn to Dr. Varma on this, we really believe in outdoor sports in terms of city. I don't want to-- be any confusion between what the State has said about college sports, we are doing outdoor sports with public schools. And we think that smart and safe for the foreseeable future. But to that standard question, Dr. Varma, speak to that.

JAY VARMA: Yeah, I'm not sure I fully understand the question, but let me try to explain. So CDC has a matrix to decide what safety measures schools should have based on two factors, one are the number of cases per 100,000, and the second is based on the test positivity. Now, because New York City does more testing per capita than any other very large jurisdiction, we always have a discrepancy where we fall into the moderate risk criteria based on test positivity, but we fall into the high risk category because we document and confirm so many cases.

So we continue to adopt very rigid safety measures that really meet and exceed the CDC guidance, and those aligned with what CDC recommends in that high-risk case threshold. And in terms of public school sports, as the mayor has noted, we feel very strongly that outdoor sports are something that benefits students and can be done safely, but are concerned about indoor sports activities.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead.

- The next is Mark Hallum from "AM New York."

MARK HALLUM: Hi, Mr. Mayor. Thank you for taking my question. Can you hear me OK?

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, how are you doing?

MARK HALLUM: I'm good. How are you?

BILL DE BLASIO: Good, man.

MARK HALLUM: So I wanted to hear your thoughts on the Empire Station Complex in consideration to Senator Wellman and other advocates calling for the city to have a say in the matter. I wanted to know, specifically, is your administration communicating with the State regarding this plan, sort of advocating the same thing?

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, Mark, we've been talking to the State for a long time about Penn Station, and we very much believe in local input and community input, and that it has to be a project that benefits the larger community, not just wealthy developers. So I think the legislature did exactly the right thing. It limited the funding to transit infrastructure, put additional checks and balances on additional approvals that are needed that are not just left to the executive branch of the State.

And we're going to keep working with the legislature to ensure community input because it's an important part of our city, but whatever happens there has to be for the community, not just for some very powerful interests. Go ahead, Mark.

MARK HALLUM: Oh, no that's it. Thank you.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead.

- The next is Dan Slotnik from "The New York Times."

DAN SLOTNIK: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. How are you today?

BILL DE BLASIO: Good, Dan. How you been?

DAN SLOTNIK: I'm good. I'm good. So I'm working on a story, mainly about homeless shelter workers and their pay scale in the city and how they can struggle to get ahead in a city where the cost of living is as high as it is in New York. So I was just wondering why many of them are paid so little and how those salaries are determined.

BILL DE BLASIO: Dan, it's a really good question, and the folks who work on our homeless shelters do incredibly important work. And obviously, this is one of the most complex issues facing New York City, and we depend on those folks to help us address really deep human needs. I don't honestly know enough about the different types of workers and the different pay scales, but I'll be happy to look into it. We want people to do this work and be able to commit to it, so I will take up this good question, and we will come back with some answers.

DAN SLOTNIK: Well, thank you. And I guess the follow-up would just be is there a way to get higher salaries for some of these lower-level folks, and what would it take to do so?

BILL DE BLASIO: Again, I think when we talk about homeless shelters, we have a mix of different employees, some who are city employees. A lot of times, of course, it's nonprofits running shelters on behalf of the city. They have their own pay scales and different realities for each nonprofit.

We have worked over the years to provide more funding to the nonprofit community. So they could increase pay for workers. That's something we've done systematically in previous budgets, and we want to keep looking at this issue.

We've got to balance a lot of needs, as always, but I do want to make sure we're as fair as we can possibly be to working people with the resources we have. So again, this is something, it's not a single group of workers. There's a lot of different types of workers. We will look at this and discuss this as part of our upcoming budget process.

- We have time for two more for today. The next is Andrew Siff from WNBC.

ANDREW SIFF: Good morning, Mr. Mayor and everyone on the call.

BILL DE BLASIO: Good morning, Andrew. How are you doing?

ANDREW SIFF: Good.

BILL DE BLASIO: Do you have a better phone today?

ANDREW SIFF: You can hear me nice and clearly today. Yes. Yes, it is. Thanks to technology, crystal clear.

BILL DE BLASIO: There you go.

ANDREW SIFF: My question about the 2-case rule, and maybe the chancellor has this information, what we would hear from parents when they were upset with this rule is that it would happen over and over at certain schools. I'm wondering, did the DOE keep track of where this was happening most often, and is there any special initiative to address what happened to the parents in those areas?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, let me just start and say-- I'll turn to the chancellor. Yes, of course. I mean, this is what the situation room is all about. Of course, everything has been tracked. We believe this new approach is going to keep everyone safe, but also keep schools open a lot more steadily through April, May, June.

So I think the fact that we've been tracking helps us to understand how everything played out, but we really do believe this will overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly-- I want to be really clear about that, Andrew, that we think the vast majority of closures won't happen any more under this approach, but we still can keep people safe. In terms of the impact on those school communities and how principals and educators have compensated when there are closures, the chancellor can speak to that.

MEISHA ROSS PORTER: Yeah, so I'll say, first of all, the closures are public and posted on our website, and I think that one of the things that's been important all along is that we work in partnership with our health and safety partners to make these decisions. But our schools have been prepared to shift to remote learning, as they did at the start of this pandemic and have continued to provide remote instruction to students when they have been closures.

But today's announcement is really exciting for all of the reasons that you've said, and it will bring stability to our system in those places where families felt like there were more closures more often than not. This eliminates that in a lot of ways, but also is really grounded in identifying where we are as a city and the State and having the ability to make this shift based on health and science.

ANDREW SIFF: Thank you very much.

DAVE CHOKSHI: Mr. Mayor.

BILL DE BLASIO: Yes, Dr. Chokshi, please.

DAVE CHOKSHI: Briefly, a couple of points to add to what the chancellor has said. First, the era of disruptive, 24-hour closures is over. That's one of the things that the new policy gets us to. The second is we're bringing to bear what we know has worked over the last several months, which is increased testing. That gives us such a powerful tool, both to have visibility into what's happening in our schools, but then also, finally, to take action when necessary.

And our ability to quarantine classrooms and close contacts really allows us to interrupt the spread before it gets too far.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you very much. Go ahead, Andrew.

ANDREW SIFF: My second question also has to do with education, and I apologize if I missed any aspect of this earlier, but when you reopen schools a couple of weeks ago you said the goal was for five days a week in as many places as possible. From what we hear, there are still many, many, many schools where it's the blended model. The parents have been told there isn't room to do five days a week. Has the new CDC guidance about three feet of separation been factored into these schools, and are you still pushing to expand to five day a week, in-person during this school year?

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah. Good question, Andrew. Yes, I'll start, and if the chancellor wants to add-- yes, five days a week is the goal everywhere it could possibly happen. Point one. Point two, we continue to add five-day-a-week capacity all the time because there's constant efforts by principals and teachers to either open up new space or use space differently. Or sometimes students move to remote, and that changes things. So there's lots of different moving parts, but we're always looking to add five-day-a-week capacity, even down to child by child. Every additional child you can get to five days a week is better.

Majority of our schools are at either five days a week, all kids or five day a week, majority of kids. There are definitely schools that are not. We'll continue to try and work with them. Some of them have insurmountable space situations, but we continue to work with them. Last point on the CDC guidance, we are preparing to implement it, but we are waiting on the State of New York to give us formal guidance. We'll have more to say in the coming days on what we're hearing from the State and how we're going to proceed.

The opt-in is to give us the information that when everything is clear and ready to go, we can act on it for the thousands and thousands of parents who are ready to opt-in with their kids. But the bottom line is, if we do have more space flexibility, that also is going to help us get more kids to five days a week. Chancellor.

MEISHA ROSS PORTER: I will just agree with the mayor and say, yes, five days a week. And I think he did a really great job of outlining that there are some places where we're targeting specific groups of students. There are some places where we can do it all five days for all students, and schools are working on what works in their community. But we are pushing forward to get as many students in-person, five days a week as possible.

BILL DE BLASIO: Excellent. Thank you. Go ahead.

- Last question for today goes to Ben Evansky from Fox News.

BEN EVANSKY: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor, for taking my question. On the $2.1 billion fund in the State budget that provides assistance to illegal aliens, is this a wise use of taxpayer money?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, Ben, I'm going to say everyone has a right to their own terminology. I think the people who are benefiting are New Yorkers. I know the people benefiting are New Yorkers. Half a million of our fellow New Yorkers here in this city who happen to be undocumented. They are part of our city. They're part of the life of our city. This is why long ago, we provide public education, we provide health care. In a food crisis, we provide food. We don't discriminate.

So my answer is, yes, this is important to do because these are families. These are human beings who are part of our communities, part of our life, part of our economy. They've been suffering without a lot of the help other people have gotten. This is part of how we recover together. So I do think it was the right thing to do. Go ahead, Ben.

BEN EVANSKY: Just to follow-up on that, obviously, the time where we seeing a crisis on the border, might this be the wrong signal to send to those trying to come into the US right now illegally?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, I understand the question, Ben. And look, I think the answer, it's a very fair question, and I think this is the kind of conversation we should all have as Americans. I think the answer is increasingly clear. It's comprehensive, immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million people who are here, and let's change this whole paradigm and make sense of it, rather than this illusion we've been living with for decades and decades.

But in terms of the folks who are coming to the border are coming to the border, I think it's well documented because of horrible crises that really are not like things we've seen in the past, particularly, in the Central American nations that we do need to contribute to solving at the root. The US has had a long, deep, deep involvement in Central America. We have very much been part of what has created both the good and bad there. But we have to work to solve that problem because unless we do that, there will be constantly people trying to come here because they have no other choice. They're facing violence and terror in many cases, and it's a classic situation.

Any parent faced with the same challenge would do the same thing and try and get their families to safety. So why don't we go and deal with the root cause? I think it's the right time to do that. OK, everyone, as we conclude, I just want to offer a thanks because the conversation we're having today about our schools gets back to a core reality. Our schools opened starting in September. We had challenges, we had ups and downs, but we opened our schools, and we kept moving forward, our schools.

And that's because of our educators. That's because of our school staff. That's because of the leadership of our department education. That's because of our health care professionals-- Test & Trace Corp, situation room. A lot of people gave their all and very, very long hours. I want all New Yorkers to understand this. Your public servants have been working nonstop since March last year, many of them with no break, many of them working longer hours than they ever worked in their lives to protect you and serve you and serve your kids.

It's been a heroic effort. I want to thank all of them. And now, with this new rule today, we're convinced we will have the same extraordinary safety that our schools have had, while having more time in school for our kids. I know every day, every hour in school helps a child move forward, particularly after the trauma they've been through. Being around loving, caring, professionals who are there for them makes all the difference.

And so everyone, it's an important point to recognize that we're going to make sure our kids get what they need. We're going to see them through this crisis, and today's announcement is going to help us do it. Thanks, everybody.