Mayor Eric Adams repeated on Tuesday something he’s been saying for weeks as COVID-19 cases ticked upward across the city: Public schools will not shut down.
“I don’t want anyone to get this mixed up,” Adams said during his first formal press briefing in the City Hall Blue Room on Jan. 18. “Our schools are going to remain open. We are not going to do anything that is going to stop our children from coming into schools.”
Much of Adams’ briefing — in which reporters were in person at the Blue Room for the first time in nearly two years — focused on school attendance rates, how his policies regarding education have been carried out and the importance of keeping schools safe and open.
Since the Mayor took office Jan. 1, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, an adamant Adams insisted that public schools continue in-person classes, stating dozens of times that school buildings are the “safest places” for NYC’s children. At the press conference Tuesday, he reiterated this and maintained that his position has not changed.
Adams initiated two new policies upon entering office to maintain in-person instruction; the distribution of over 4.5 million at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits and the doubling of PCR testing in schools, which jumped from 10% to 20%. These policies, Adams attributed, helped identify thousands of cases as well as helped prevent the spread of the virus in classrooms.
“The numbers that this program shows [show] that increasing testing works,” Adams said. “We are going to continue to assure that home test kits will go to every child that needs it to make sure that they can take the proper precautions as we move forward.”
Schools Chancellor David C. Banks also addressed at Tuesday’s briefing the continued high number of student absences within the NYC education system, with the most recent report indicating 75% school attendance which correlates to roughly 200,000 students out of school.
Banks noted that before the Adams administration had taken office, the school attendance rate was about 63%, and since the Mayor was sworn in the number of students returning to school has been steadily increasing each day.
“With all the testing we have done and the 25,000 cases, only 1% of those are positive,” said Banks. “Those are incredible numbers as compared to the general population.”
Banks also addressed the fear and anxiety that has been plaguing many households regarding child infection. The chancellor assured the public that the Adams administration was making safety a top priority, while also asserting the importance of enriching the lives of children by keeping them physically in classrooms to keep up with learning and development.
“Families have been concerned,” said Banks. “The message that we have been reporting over and over again – which is based on science – is that the safest place to be is in school.”
As of Jan. 17, NYC has reported a seven-day average of nearly 25,000 active COVID-19 cases, with roughly 14,000 new cases being reported on that day. These numbers are still incredibly high, but data also reported a substantial decline in new cases over the past week, including fewer hospitalizations.
“We are winning and we are moving in the right direction,” said Adams. “Thanks to the hard work of New Yorkers, we are able to keep our schools open so far. My administration determined day one we were not closing our schools.”