NYC teachers worry about school safety as COVID-19 cases spike

NYC teachers worry about school safety as COVID-19 cases spike

January 3, 2021

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NYC teachers are worried about the safety of students and staff as city schools remain open  amid rising COVID-19 rates.

“We know that community spread is the main driver of school cases, so the risk is increasing and there’s no threshold to close schools amid rising rates,” said Annie Tan, a Sunset Park teacher whose school is located in a zip code where the positivity rate over the past seven days has hit a steep 15 percent.

The city’s highest infection rate was 17 percent in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park, data compiled by The City show.

Citywide, the positivity rate on a seven-day average rose to 9.39 percent on Saturday, Mayor de Blasio tweeted. He cited 3,648 new cases and 201 new hospitalizations. He did not mention the 32 new deaths.

“You cannot open schools on Monday — it will be over 12% by Monday January 4. Save lives!” teacher Lisa Pines tweeted in response.

The mayor agreed with the teachers’ union to close all schools for three weeks starting Nov. 19 when the citywide, 7-day positivity rate hit 3 percent.

But now he sees no reason to shut down completely again.

“Based on all that I know, and conversations I’ve had with our health care leadership, we all agree that schools should stay open throughout the remainder of the school year,” the mayor told NBC New York’s Andrew Siff on New Year’s Eve.

Asked if he would guarantee that, de Blasio replied, “I don’t get to make the final decision, the state does.” 

A spokeswoman for the United Federation of Teachers did not ring any alarm bells. 

“Our experience so far has been that the actual infection rate in schools has been very small, including in hard-hit neighborhoods, but we will be monitoring results closely as in-school testing begins again Monday,” a spokeswoman said.

DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot expressed no reservations:

“We have the gold standard in safety measures including weekly testing and mandatory face coverings, and don’t hesitate to temporarily quarantine a classroom or building in order to keep schools safe,” she said.

“Elementary and District 75 schools will return for in-person learning on Monday as we continue to closely monitor metrics across the city.”

Barbot would not give the number of students showing up in schools. 

On Dec. 31, the DOE reported 140 new infections — 15 students and 125 school staffers, bringing the total since mid-September to 7,017.  The cases include children and employees who have worked or studied remotely as well as in-person.

It was the highest one-day infection tally since Dec. 23, when the total hit 145 — 62 students and 83 staff, according to DOE data.

On that day, the last before the Christmas break, 1,049 classrooms were closed due to coronavirus cases. Nearly 300 buildings — some housing multiple schools — were closed: 249 buildings shut for 14 days, and 43 buildings for at least 24 hours.

Untold scores of students and staff exposed to those infected are told to quarantine,

In one Brooklyn school, where 19 teachers recently were quarantined, school aides were assigned to supervise students in the building while they took classes taught remotely.

“When you quarantine like that, there’s no guarantee of substitutes for those in-person teachers and that creates more instability,” Tan said.


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