NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — New York City public schools will close Thursday after the city reached a 3% rolling COVID positivity threshold, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.
The mayor said the rate hit exactly 3.0%.
“New York City has reached the 3% testing positivity 7-day average threshold. Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out an abundance of caution,” de Blasio tweeted. “We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19.”
New York City has reached the 3% testing positivity 7-day average threshold. Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out an abundance of caution.
We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) November 18, 2020
The move means in-person learning will be paused and students will switch to all-remote learning starting Thursday.
They will remain closed through Thanksgiving, with the week after the holiday being the first possibility for reopening.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said parents will be hearing from principals about next steps.
UPDATE: Health and safety have always been our first priority for @NYCSchools students, staff, and families. To protect our school communities and our city, beginning tomorrow, all @NYCSchools buildings will be closed, and all learning will proceed remotely, until further notice. https://t.co/pE6xcxxWGQ
— Chancellor Richard A. Carranza (@DOEChancellor) November 18, 2020
“We will be communicating with families about device support and tips for remote learning. Free meals for all students will still be available. And principals will work with their staff to make sure there are windows of time to pick up materials at buildings as needed,” Carranza said. “New Yorkers have proven they are ready and willing to do the work to fight against this virus. And we need to ask that of you again, because that’s how we get schools back open: with the support of each and every one of you. We will get through this, together.”
Carranza vowed, “We will get students back in buildings as soon as we can, safely.”
De Blasio had promised to pause in-person learning if the city crossed the 3% threshold. Schools had been in a blended-learning mode since Sept. 21.
“No one is happy about this decision, we all in fact are feeling very sad about the decision because so much good work has been put into keeping the school’s opened,” de Blasio said, adding, “We set a very clear standard and we need to stick to that standard.”
The mayor called the move a “setback,” but on that the city will overcome.
The decision appeared to have the support of the teachers union.
“The city established the three percent infection rate threshold to make sure that schools did not become centers to spread the coronavirus. Since the three percent rate has been reached, education will continue but all students will be learning remotely,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “Now it’s the job of all New Yorkers to maintain social distance, wear masks and take all other steps to substantially lower the infection rate so school buildings can re-open for in-person instruction.”
While city officials have yet to release the details of a reopening strategy, de Blasio said part of that plan will be a heavier emphasis on COVID-19 testing. He vowed, “We intend to come back and come back as quickly as possible.”
The announcement came following much confusion about the fate of the city’s schools as the mayor delayed his 10 a.m. daily briefing for nearly five hours before tweeting his decision after 2 p.m.
Asked about the delay de Blasio explained, “This morning getting the data exactly on the nose of 3.00 percent, we wanted to make sure it was 100 percent accurate and there was time spent confirming that. There was time spent working with the State on what it would mean, what the next steps would be. But it also got to a larger discussion with the Governor and his team about what we’re going to have to do overall in terms of restrictions for New York City, and what it would take to bring back our schools.”
That confusion was compounded when during the delay, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held his own briefing in which there were discrepancies between city and state data.
WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb asked the mayor about the different sets of numbers coming from the city and state.
“The State and City, throughout, have had a different system,” the mayor said. “It’s not surprising that different levels of government might have different approaches. They lead us in the same direction consistently.”
“What we know is that we put forward a standard related to the schools-based on the city’s way of counting testing, and that is based on the day the test was taken, not when the test result arrives, the day the test was taken,” he elaborated further.
“No one is happy about this decision…we intend to come back and come back as quickly as possible” pic.twitter.com/EH7BFxu6GC
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) November 18, 2020
Cuomo announced that New York City was on track to become an orange zone under the state’s microcluster strategy, which would close schools and usher in other restrictions once the area’s positivity rate hits 3%, but the governor said the city had not reached that point as according to state data.
Cuomo said the city’s positivity rate on Tuesday was 2.9%, while the seven-day average was at 2.5%, meaning that according to the state, a school closure had not yet been triggered.
In orange zones, all public, private and charter schools will be closed, as well as high-risk non-essential businesses (such as gyms and personal service salons). Mass gatherings must be limited to 10 people maximum, in both indoor and outdoor settings; but religious gatherings can operate at 33% capacity, or a maximum of 25 people.
Dining will be limited to outdoor only with 4 people per table max.
With the city on the verge of being designated an orange zone, de Blasio warned New Yorkers “we have to do more to fight back this second wave” and additional restrictions will be coming soon.
Typically, schools in orange zones must close for at least four days to clean the entire building, but they could opt to follow the “test out” method and reopen with increased COVID testing.
However, Cuomo notes the state would need to modify the “test out” option for New York City.
“We would have to design a different formula for New York City, because by volume, we couldn’t test every student in New York City,” Cuomo said.
The governor also predicts that COVID cases will spike tremendously after Thanksgiving.
“It’s counterintuitive, what I thought was the safest place and the safest situation, ‘in my home at my table with my family , it can’t be any safer than that.’ That’s a dangerous situation,” Cuomo said.
City Councilman Brad Lander slammed the decision to close schools as a “failure of leadership.”
“Schools should be the last things to close, not the first,” Lander said. “The Governor and Mayor’s ego-battles over making decisions about our schools have thrown families and educators into chaos on a daily basis. It is fundamentally disrespectful to our educators and parents, and outright harmful for our students.”
Lander said the city should’ve instead closed schools next week for Thanksgiving to give educators, parents and children more time to plan.