Before President Biden declared the COVID-19 pandemic “over” on CBS Sunday, New York recently stopped requiring schools to report cases and lifted most remaining mask mandates intended to curb outbreaks.
Yet despite officials pushing a post-pandemic outlook, New York’s COVID-19 death toll continued to grow − adding nearly 350 deaths so far in September. And each life lost offered a stark reminder that the coronavirus is still causing untold pain and suffering across the state and nation.
Meanwhile, the USA TODAY Network gathered the following details about recent COVID-19 policy changes in New York, as the state navigates a cautiously optimistic transition to living with the virus amid the lingering threat of a resurgence this fall and winter.
NY schools COVID reports end
In late August, state health officials sent letters to educators detailing the COVID-19 policies for the current school year, including relaxed quarantine and testing mandates.
That letter also noted schools would no longer be required to report daily positive COVID-19 test results among students and teachers to state officials.
The daily test results were also posted on a now-deactivated website, called the School COVID-19 Report Card, which allowed parents to monitor cases in each school.
State health officials, including Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, cited mounting access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments as the primary reason for easing pandemic precautions and case-reporting requirements in schools, the letter shows.
The COVID-19 report card for schools began under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Public health experts supported the measure, citing a need to disclose key COVID-19 data to help curb outbreaks and let people make informed decisions about personal safety.
While the state ended its requirement, New York City public schools currently still track and report COVID-19 cases by school on a website via schools.nyc.gov.
What COVID data is NY reporting?
The decision to stop reporting COVID-19 cases in schools came amid increasing use of at-home tests, including millions of kits the state provided to schools statewide.
While some counties attempted to track and report at-home test use, most results go unreported in part due to the lack of a statewide policy.
Many other COVID-19 statistics − such as those related to hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations − are reported publicly on a state Health Department website via health.ny.gov.
Earlier in the pandemic, state officials were slow to release much of that COVID-19 data, often disclosing it under pressure from health experts and media outlets, including the USA TODAY Network.
As a result, COVID-19 data reporting in part fueled broad revelations, such as government failures to address outbreaks in nursing homes and racial disparities throughout the pandemic response.
Since shutting down the schools report card website, health officials last week said there are "no immediate plans to change other COVID-19 data trackers" on the state website.
Health officials are “constantly evaluating the utility and presentation of data and will continue to update and change our data pages as necessary,” they added in a statement.
One of the statistics missing from the state website, however, is the number of New Yorkers receiving the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster that targets the original virus and omicron strain. Instead, the state reports on the overall number and percentage of eligible people who received a booster or additional dose during the pandemic.
State health officials last week told the USA TODAY Network about 75,000 doses of the new booster had been received by New Yorkers, excluding New York City, between Sept. 7 and 11. Providers in New York, excluding New York City, had ordered about 719,000 doses overall at the time.
When did New York end its COVID emergency?
Gov. Kathy Hochul allowed her state COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration to expire on Sept. 12, citing in part the lull in cases and hospitalizations in recent months.
Initially, Hochul declared a state of emergency in late November as the original omicron variant emerged. The executive order gave Hochul broad authority to respond to the pandemic, including testing and vaccine logistics.
The order also allowed Hochul’s administration to waive requirements that the state Comptroller’s Office review and approve state purchasing contracts.
Many Republican lawmakers have criticized Hochul for extending the emergency order as she eased many pandemic restrictions earlier this year.
The pushback mounted in recent weeks amid bipartisan questions about New York paying $637 million for COVID-19 test kits as omicron raged last winter. The tests came through a New Jersey-based company, Digital Gadgets, owned by a family that has donated nearly $300,000 to Hochul’s campaign, as first reported by the Times Union.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, is running against Hochul in November's gubernatorial election and was among those calling last week for state and federal investigations of the deal, citing Times Union reporting that New York paid 45% more per test than California around the same time.
Hochul’s “campaign donor was the middle man on the deal, but there was no need for a middle man with a massively marked up cost,” Zeldin wrote on Twitter.
Hochul’s administration has defended the deal as necessary to combat omicron, noting in part New York bought tests before other states and had strict requirements to deliver the kits before school resumed in January.
How many New Yorkers are dying from COVID?
Previously, former Gov. Cuomo ended a prior COVID-19 emergency declaration in June 2021, as fireworks displays (costing taxpayers anywhere from $4,500 in Utica to $44,500 in New York City) marked the milestone of vaccinating 70% of adult New Yorkers.
That premature return to normalcy in New York and nationally proved fleeting, as two months later the delta variant’s rise ignited another surge in cases last fall before omicron took hold in early December.
Now, New York has spent much of 2022 navigating the uncertain ebbs and flows of the omicron strain, while more than 11,700 New Yorkers have died due to COVID-19 so far this year, federal data show. The death toll since Aug. 1 alone is more than 1,100, underscoring the lingering risks.
Overall, COVID-19 has killed more than 74,000 New Yorkers since the pandemic began in 2020, federal data show.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: NY schools stop reporting COVID cases on state website. What to know