With less than seven weeks until the start of the school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday public school teachers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing as the City grapples with a new spike in COVID cases mostly caused by the more contagious Delta variant.
Some teachers applauded the mayor’s move to increase the vaccination rate among the city’s public school workforce. Teachers in New York state became eligible to receive the vaccine in March, but so far only 60% of all public school educators have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Mayor de Blasio.
“I’m happy that something like this has finally come out, it’s taken a long time,” Annie Tan, a fourth-grade special education teacher in Brooklyn told amNewYork Metro. “But I don’t know if it’s enough.”
Many teachers believe the mayor’s edict still falls short of keeping school communities safe and hope the de Blasio administration will soon issue more guidance on how educators are expected to implement health and safety protocols within schools this year.
Tan noted some teachers about breakthrough infections, in which a person contracts the COVID-19 virus despite being vaccinated.
Tan, along with a few other teachers that spoke to amNew York Metro, said their fears over breakthrough cases worsened after reading headlines about a recent spike in COVID cases in Provincetown, MA which mostly occurred among vaccinated people.
A handful of teachers also told amNew York Metro they are also worried about accidentally infecting their unvaccinated students given that the city’s younger students are not eligible for the vaccine and the vaccination rate among older students is still low.
The Food and Drug Administration has only approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 years and older. And since the vaccine’s approval in May, just over 226,000 children — or 44% of vaccine-eligible kids in the city — have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.
“I think it’s a good start,” said Andrea Keller, a fifth grade teacher in the Bronx about de Blasio’s vaccine and testing mandate. “I wish that it wasn’t so loose…and there is not a lot of information about what that testing is.”
A lot of questions about the City’s COVID-19 school testing protocol remain unanswered. Last school year, the city required 15% to 20% of all adults and children taking part in-person classes or working from school buildings be randomly tested every month.
The City has continued to randomly test 10% teachers and children participating in de Blasio’s Summer Rising, a free summer school program meant to help address learning loss among public school students. It is unclear though what percentage of students and staff in school building the DOE plans randomly testing and how frequently the tests will be administered.
Over a year after the first system-wide public school shutdown, Mayor de Blasio announced in May all public schools would fully reopening for students on Sept.13 with no remote option. With it’s 1.1 million students, the New York City public school system will be the largest network of schools to fully reopen this fall.
But in a system notorious for its overcrowded classrooms, teachers worry they will not be able to accommodate all of their students while still abiding by social distancing rules despite recent guideline changes from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the DOE is still implementing a form of its quarantine policy for students and teachers testing positive for COVID-19. Since Summer Rising began earlier this month, 142 classrooms have been closed due to a COVID-19 infection prompting questions among instructors as to how they will be expected to instruct unvaccinated students who contract the virus without a remote option.
“There needs to be a remote option planned for now and not a week before school because we are going to be scrambling,” said Tan.