As COVID-19 cases jump, de Blasio stands by school closure plan if positivity rate hits 3%

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Courtesy NYC Mayor’s Office)

Officials are preparing to shut down schools again and shift to online learning only if the city’s COVID-19 rate reaches 3%, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed on Thursday. 

“This is something that no one wants to see happen, I don’t want to see this happen but there is still a chance to turn things around, obviously,” de Blasio told reporters at a press conference. “ But we are preparing for that possibility.” 

Since the summer, de Blasio has said that he will not allow schools to stay open if the number of New York City residents testing positivity for the virus reaches 3% based on a seven-day average.

Now, the city might have to make good on that promise given how steadily the number of new COVID-19 cases is increasing across the five boroughs — and especially on Staten Island.

City Hall reported 870 new cases of the virus, a daily positivity rate of 2.3% and a daily positivity rate of 2.6% on Nov. 11. Since the spring, the de Blasio administration has released three daily COVID-19 indicators with a two-day lag and warned of restrictions of movement, gatherings and school openings if those indicators pass threshold numbers. 

New cases of the virus have surpassed the city’s 550 threshold since late October but city officials have yet to impose any new restrictions despite warning about upticks of the virus in Staten Island. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a new set of restrictions on Wednesday in an attempt to quash the virus’ rapidly increasing spread, ordering all restaurants, bars and gyms to close at 10 p.m. starting Friday, Nov. 13, and capping the number of people allowed in private gatherings to 10. 

The governor also designated most of Staten Island into a yellow zone, which limits the number of New Yorkers allowed to gather outdoors to 25, requires that all schools test at least 20% of all students and staff every week and allows only four to a table at indoor or outdoor restaurants. 

It is unclear though if the governor will intervene when it comes to New York City school closures. Governor Andrew Cuomo said in the Cuomo has said that the state would shut down schools if the positivity rate reaches over 9% and all local governments had to submit school reopening proposals by July 31 which the state Education Department then approved in August. 

To the surprise of many New Yorkers, the rate of COVID-19 transmission has remained relatively low in schools since staff returned to buildings on Sept.8. and students began trickling in on Sept. 21. After Mayor de Blasio delayed the start of in-person classes twice this fall, students returned to classrooms following a phased-in approach. Since Sept. 14, the DOE has recorded 1,790 cases of virus among students and staffers, according to the department’s daily COVID case map. 

De Blasio told reporters that all students would learn remotely if a second citywide school shutdown were to occur claiming that teachers and principals have already been working under the assumption that “we could teach every child remote at any point.” The mayor failed to address the fact that the department is still missing 77,000 laptops and iPads students need for remote learning. 

It is unclear if pre-k centers run by community-based organizations, private schools, independent schools and special education programs would be subject to a city shutdown order. 

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