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First school in New York City closes due to positive COVID-19 cases

J.H.S. 278 Marine Park (Photo by Todd Maisel)

 P.S. 811x The Academy for Career and Living Skills, a district 75 school in the Bronx, is the first public school to close after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19 in seven days, the Department of Education announced on Friday. 

The department also confirmed that seventeen more Department of Education employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since school buildings reopened for teachers on Tuesday, officials said Friday. 

So far, about 15,000 staffers have taken advantage of expedited testing, according to the DOE. The turnaround time for test results is 48 hours for 97% of tests. 

After mounting pressure to delay the start of in-person classes, Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed back the start of the school year until Sept. 21. But teachers returned to buildings on Sept. 8, to prepare for their students’ return. 

Reports of instructors testing positive for the virus a day after buildings reopened caused panic among some teachers and parents frazzled by the constant worry of outbreaks linked to schools. The Justice caucus of the city’s United Federation of Teachers, also known as MORE UFT, alleged on Wednesday that three teachers had self-reported testing positive to their higher-ups and colleagues. 

Miranda Barbot, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, confirmed two Brooklyn employees—a staffer at P.S.001 in Sunset Park and another at M.S. 88 in Park Slope—had indeed tested positive for the virus. 

More reports began to circulate online a day later and the President of the UFT Michael Mulgrew told reporters 16 of its members self-reported testing positive for the virus on Thursday. 

After a day of radio silence, the DOE confirmed at least 17 other staffers in 17 different buildings have tested positive for the virus. 

Teachers and staffers returning to schools before the start of classes are not required to get tested for COVID-19. Instead, the city strongly encourages staffers to do so. Beginning on Oct. 1, schools will need to test 10% to 20% of their populations. Mayor de Blasio pledged to close down schools in the coronavirus cases exceed 3% on 7-day average. 

 “All individuals with a confirmed case are isolating, and the Department of Health, in partnership with the Test & Trace Corps, is conducting investigations into all confirmed cases to establish who are close contacts and asking them to quarantine,” according to a statement from the department. 

“As we get ready for in-person learning, we’ll stop at nothing to ensure principals, teachers and school staff have the protections they need to stay safe and prepare for the school year,” said Barbot in an email on Friday. “While we continue to navigate the realities of a pandemic, there will be positive cases—we are putting people’s health above everything else by quickly identifying and isolating positive cases, which is a leading effort to prevent transmission.”

The city’s Test & Trace Corp. can confirm a case through routine contact tracing and inform DOE or staffers can self-report a case to their schools. Principals can then send infected staffers to the City’s Situation Room, a rapid response team comprised of members from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Test & Trace Corps. More details on this effort will be released next week, according to the DOE.

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