City reports 28 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff in public schools

FILE PHOTO: Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza tour New Bridges Elementary School ahead of schools reopening
FILE PHOTO: A hallway stands empty during a news conference at an elementary school

So far, 28 public school students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since the city began randomly testing school communities earlier this month, Mayor de Blasio said on Tuesday. 

Students enrolled in hybrid learning, where children take classes for two or three days in-person, have been in school buildings for three weeks but the city did not begin testing until 10 days ago. Since then, the city’s Test and Trace Corp. has conducted 16,348 COVID tests and received results for 16,298 yielding a 0.17 % positivity rate for the virus. Out of the 28 positive cases, 20 are teachers and 8 are students. 

“This is really extraordinary,” said de Blasio during a press conference Tuesday morning. “That’s unbelievably good and this really bodes well for the future of our schools and our ability to fight and overcome this disease.” 

Mayor de Blasio’s school testing plan has come under scrutiny over the last month for its frequency and sample size. The New York City public school system instructs over 1.1 million students and 541,469–0r 46%–are currently enrolled in hybrid learning, according to the most recent Department of Education data. 

The mayor’s plan only requires between 10 and 20% of a school’s staff and student population be randomly tested once a month which some researchers argue does not a large enough sample size to prevent possible outbreaks of the virus. Researchers at New York University’s Gross School of Medicine argue that a better approach would be to test 50% of students and teachers twice a week, the New York Times reported, and some support testing every person in a school building. 

In contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued school testing guidelines which does not support universal testing of school staff and students instead arguing that testing efforts should focus on those showing symptoms of the virus. 

In addition, some have worried about the accuracy of the city released testing data given that students younger than 18 years old must first submit a signed parental consent form before they can be tested. Officials from the Department of Education said last Friday that only 72,000 public school students enrolled in hybrid learning have returned parental consent forms during a City Council hearing. Parents can access the consent form on the DOE’s website and the department is “constantly” receiving newly singed forms, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza told councilmembers. 

On Tuesday, the mayor touted the low number of positive COVID cases as a testament to the strength of the city’s COVID safety measures in schools. Public school parents, teachers and staff have worried for months about the city’s ability to safely reopen school during an ongoing pandemic.  “When we said we were taking a global and gold standard approach to our schools that is exactly what happened,” de Blasio said. “The proof is in the results.” 

Others think that the low numbers could be a reflection that schools will not serve as vectors for outbreaks after all. “This has kind of reinforced what we have heard thus far around schools,” said Paula White, executive director of Educators for Excellence, a teachers organization.