By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
Mayor Bill de Blasio updated New Yorkers that the city’s COVID-19 positivity rate has indeed reached 3.0% prompting all public schools to close, after delaying his daily morning press conference for over five hours on Wednesday.
While New Yorkers waited for the mayor, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the daily COVID positivity rate for New York City was 2.9%, the positivity rate based on a seven-day average was 2.5% and that parts of the Bronx would soon become yellow zones due to uptick in new cases of the virus.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education told principals that according to city data New York City had reached its 3% threshold for closing down schools and to prepare for a temporary transition to remote-only classes.
City Hall confirmed that the city schools will in fact be closed to in-person learners starting tomorrow Thursday, Nov. 19. Will remain closed until Thanksgiving.
“No one is happy about this decision, we all in fact are feeling very sad about this decision… but we set a very clear standard and we need to stick to that standard,” de Blasio told reporters. “I want to emphasize to parents, to educators, to kids we intend to come back as quickly as possible.”
Mayor de Blasio explained that he and members of his office were “talking throughout the morning” with the state about guidelines to reopen closed public schools guaranteeing that a heavier emphasis on COVID testing will be “crucial” for a second system-wide reopening.
“Everyone has got to get engaged with even more testing,” said de Blasio. “ To everyone in school communities, starting with parents and kids we need to get testing consent forms in even as we are in this moment of pause.” Once schools reopen, students will need to have a COVID testing content form on file, de Blasio added. It is unclear if students who do not return a testing parental consent form will be allowed back into school buildings for in-person classes.
De Blasio added that more restrictions “across the board” will soon be issued from the state in response to the increasing number of COVID cases across the city. On Wednesday, City Hall reported that out of the 114 New York City residents admitted to the hospital with suspected COVID 43.86% tested positive for the virus. In addition, officials revealed that there were 1,200 new cases of the virus on Monday, more than double the city’s threshold number of 550 and that the daily positivity rate was 2.75%. Since March, the city has released its daily coronavirus numbers with a two-day lag.
De Blasio said that the earliest schools could potentially reopen is the week after the Thanksgiving holiday and that Learning Bridges, the city’s free childcare service, will remain open and available to public school families.
Data on Learning Bridges has been hard to come by. Chancellor Carranza has said that there are between 40,000 and 42,000 spaces available in the program, far fewer than the 70,000 seats Mayor Bill de Blasio promised would be available by November. Officials from the Department of Youth and Community Development told amNewYork Metro that only 32,000 families have been offered a seat and were unable to say how many families have accepted those offers. Earlier this week De Blasio promised the city would release updates on the program’s enrollment by Friday.
On Wednesday, de Blasio promised that the children of essential workers and students living in shelters would be given priority for Learning Bridges seats assuring parents that given the lower than expected enrollment in the program there is space available for families who need seats right away.
The system-wide shift to remote learning will harm the thousands of public school children without regular access to a computer or wifi like the thousands of children living in city shelters where Wifi access is spotty at best.