Mayor de Blasio urged New York City public school parents to plan for school closures as early as Monday, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge throughout the Big Apple.
The daily percentage of people testing positive citywide shot up to 3.09% Friday, the highest it’s been since June 5, de Blasio revealed Friday. The weekly average of that number, which is the metric the city applies to closing schools, hit 2.83% — just below the city’s 3% threshold.
“People should get ready,” de Blasio said on Brian Lehrer’s radio show Friday. “Parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November. I think that’s the safe way to think about it, have an alternative plan beginning as early as Monday.”
In one day the percentage of people testing positive for COVID over a seven-day span shot up from 2.6% to 2.83%. If that trend holds, de Blasio’s advice to parents to plan for a citywide school closure will certainly hold as well.
Hitting the 3% closure threshold would not apply to children in pre-k and 3k programs run by community-based groups, though, de Blasio noted. Learning bridges programs, which provide free childcare for kids in grades 3k to 8th grade will also remain open if the city exceeds the threshold.
“There are options that will be available if we get to that point,” de Blasio said.
The mayor has weathered considerable push back for his decision to maintain the 3% threshold as the number of coronavirus cases in public schools themselves have remained relatively low.
Out of nearly 112,000 students and staff tested as of this Tuesday, only 189 were infected — a positivity rate of .18%.
As the rate of coronavirus transmission climbs in the city, many have also questioned why gyms remain open and indoor dining continues, at least for now, as schools are on the brink of closure.
Gov. Cuomo, who holds the ultimate authority over school openings and closings, said Friday he would not block the mayor’s decision to close schools at a 3% infection rate, even though the state’s threshold is higher.
But he did question whether the schools are playing any role in the city’s rising infection rate. “The problem is not coming from the schools, it’s coming from the bars, the restaurants, the gyms and the living room family spread," he said.
Cuomo encouraged the city to adopt a new metric for shutting down schools based on virus transmission within the schools rather than the infection rate in the surrounding community.
Several elected officials have jumped on the issue.
“We owe it to our kids to do everything we can to keep schools safe and open,” tweeted Comptroller Scott Stringer on Thursday. “That means, right now, we must: 1. Shut down indoor dining. 2. Shut down gyms. 3. Shut down office buildings. 4. Make the city’s contact tracing data transparent.”
Some parents still reeling from previous school shutdowns said the citywide closure will be devastating for kids starved for in-person support.
“It’s gut-wrenching as a parent, and it’s just not necessary,” said Jennifer Johnson, the mother of an eight-year-old with autism in Queens.
Johnson’s son’s school was already shut down for several weeks in October as part of the state’s targeted restrictions on coronavirus hotspots, and only recently reopened.
Johnson had to shell out $1,900 to pay for a babysitter last time her son’s school closed, and anticipates more childcare woes if schools shut down again. But she’s most concerned about the academic and social consequences for her son and other children with disabilities.
“You’ve got kids who are non-verbal," she said. "It literally is the difference between them speaking or not.”
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