By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
New York City public schools will remain open Wednesday while the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate remains below 3%, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday.
Last week, the mayor warned that public schools could be temporarily shut down citywide as early as Monday due to the city’s positivity rate over a seven-day period inched closer to City Hall’s 3% threshold–prompting officials to shutter all schools to in-person classes.
The 3% standard was set earlier this fall in Mayor de Blasio’s state-approved school reopening plan drafted with the help of the city’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers. The number is much lower than New York state but de Blasio set the low standard to ensure parents and teachers the city was taking safety in schools seriously.
Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested de Blasio bump up the school closure threshold due since schools have not shown to be virus superspreader sites as previously thought. Out of the 140, 434 students and school staffers that have been tested for the virus so far only 308 have tested positive, resulting in a systemwide positivity rate of 0.23%, according to the Department of Education.
“The 3% standard was out of an abundance of caution there is no question about that,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “A tremendous number of people were concerned that schools couldn’t open safely…and [the number] was important to give people faith.”
But a system-wide school closure was averted over the weekend after city officials reported a significant drop in the average number of New York City residents testing positive for the virus on Saturday and Sunday.
During an interview with WNYC on Friday, de Blasio urged public school families for potential school closures after that the city’s daily COVID-19 positivity rate had read 3.09% and that the daily rate based on a seven-day average was alarmingly close to his shutdown level at 2.83%.
The next day, de Blasio spokesperson Bill Neidhart reported the citywide daily positivity rate had plummeted to 0.32% and that the seven-day average shrank to 2.47%. Numbers dropped again on Sunday with Neidhart tweeting that the daily rate had reached an even lower 0.30% and the seven-day average remained safely below the threshold number at 2.57%. Neidhart updated the numbers to 1.38% and 2.69% later that day after a number of new COVID-19 test results “had entered into the system.”
Officials attributed the drastic change to a surge in New Yorkers receiving coronavirus tests claiming that over 300,000 New York City residents were tested for the virus over the weekend with 75,000 tested on Friday alone.
City COVID-19 numbers are still hovering close to the dreaded 3%. On Tuesday, officials said the daily citywide positivity rate was 2.74% and the city’s positivity rate based on a seven-day average was 3.20%.
“We are still fighting a second wave, it still can be done and we need to all work together to get that done,” de Blasio said.