New York City’s 911-calling new mayor, Eric Adams, made clear on Monday that keeping public schools up and running despite COVID is a major priority for him, as it was for his predecessor. “We’re really excited about the opening of our schools,” Adams said in a press conference on Monday. “We want to be extremely clear: The safest place for our children is a school building.”
But the Omicron variant’s prevalence — the state has been recording upwards of 80,000 cases a day — will make maintaining the status quo a challenge. As with businesses and institutions around the country, some New York schools are dealing with staffing shortages resulting at least in part from teachers who have contracted the highly contagious variant.
This has led at least one Carroll Gardens school to close for the day. (That school, PS 58, happens to be where many journalists send their kids, lending it outsize attention on social media.) And NBC New York reports that the union representing the United Federation of Teachers asked for a one-week delay for in-person schooling, to no avail.
Anticipating that Omicron would present a unique challenge to keeping things up and running, New York announced new COVID protocols for schools last week. These include more frequent testing of both the unvaccinated and vaccinated and an updated quarantine policy that allows most children who have been exposed to a COVID-positive classmate to remain in school providing they don’t show symptoms and test negative. The state is providing 2 million at-home test kits to schools, though that number may prove insufficient if cases grow at a rapid pace among kids.
“We’re going to identify the children that are exposed,” Adams told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos over the weekend. “We’re going to remove them from that environment. The numbers show the mere fact that a child is exposed in a classroom does not mean that the entire classroom is exposed.” He urged parents to “fear not” sending their kids to school.
That sentiment is the norm across most of the country. “I still believe very firmly and very passionately, not only as an educator but as a parent, that our students belong in the classroom and that we can do it safely,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on Face the Nation on Sunday. But Axios reports that at least 2,100 schools are operating remotely this week and that multiple major districts, including Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have extended their holiday breaks by several days to deal with all the challenging new factors.
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