A student is seen walking down the steps of PS 139 closed public school in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, United States on October 8, 2020.
Michael Nagle | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
New York City schools will only move to distance learning as the city tries to contain a growing number of coronavirus cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday.
The shutdown of the country’s largest school system had been expected for days after de Blasio told parents on Friday to have a plan should the city decide to close schools for face-to-face learning. NBC News New York reported. Distance learning will begin on Thursday, the mayor said as he shared the news on Twitter.
“We’re in the middle of something really difficult,” said de Blasio at a press conference on Monday. “Health and safety come first, and health and safety come first.”
The mayor said the city would close classrooms if the citywide positivity rate, or percentage of positive Covid-19 tests, averages 3%. That was achieved on Wednesday.
“We will have an update on the plan to bring the schools back in the next few days. What additional standards are needed,” de Blasio said at a press conference shortly after the closings were announced on Wednesday. “We warned parents days ago that this moment might come, but we had to be 100% sure that we were correct this morning and we had to have this conversation with the state.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the city had powers to close schools if local officials deem it appropriate.
Mayor de Blasio was forced to delay the start of personal learning twice earlier this fall after union leaders objected to the lack of health measures to protect teachers, students and staff from the coronavirus.
Schools will close their classrooms even if indoor restaurants and the city’s gyms, which experts say are at high risk for the spread of viruses, remain open at reduced capacity. De Blasio has said the city would try to safely reopen schools as soon as possible if they closed because of the outbreak.
“The problem does not come from the schools. It comes from the bars, restaurants, gyms and the family in the living room,” said Cuomo when he called reporters on Friday. “So if you do actually close schools, I would urge the mayor and everyone involved to open them as soon as possible.”
Cuomo proposed to de Blasio that some classrooms could be reopened by introducing a school leaving system. In other parts of the state, after at least four days of closed study, a school could return to face-to-face study to allow adequate cleaning and then test students, faculties and staff before re-entering, Cuomo said at a news conference Wednesday.
However, there isn’t enough testing capacity to make this “test-out” system possible in New York City, he said.
“THAT’S COMPLETELY BACK,” said Mark Levine, a New York City Councilor who chairs the health committee, in a tweet released after the announcement.
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and advisor to the President-elect on coronavirus Joe Bidensaid CNBC last week that it was concerned that the city was “prioritizing the wrong things” when the mayor instructed families to prepare for online learning.
“We know the biggest spreaders of the infection are indoor restaurants, bars, gyms, and indoor social gatherings, which may be private gatherings,” she said. “They aren’t schools. Well, it’s not to say that schools don’t have transmission, but they are far less important to transmission in the community than some of these other attitudes.”