COVID-19 testing will be doubled in New York City schools once classes resume next week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday morning.
During a press conference with Mayor-elect Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul, de Blasio said that he and Adams are introducing and collaborating on several new mandates to ensure that students in New York City will all be able to safely return to in-person instruction despite the growing threat of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The new initiative, called “Stay Safe and Stay Open,” aims to protect students throughout all boroughs by doubling the amount of testing in schools — including vaccinated children. At-home testing will also be made readily available to students.
“Schools right now are the safest places in the city,” said de Blasio. “Ninety-six percent of Department of Education employees are vaccinated and we are moving every date to make sure schools stay open.”
Public health researcher and guest speaker, Dr. Devi Sridhar, spoke from Scotland on the importance of returning to fully in-person learning. Sridhar asserted that not only are schools safe, but an integral part of development and growth. Speaking on the communicability of the virus, Sridhar stated that “nearly everyone” could be exposed to the virus and that the best way to protect oneself from infection was continued vaccination.
Further asserting the safety of in-person learning, city Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi spoke to the drastic contrast of infection in school to at-home life, going so far as to say that schools are actually “health promoting” for students.
“Right now, only about 0.83% of vaccinated students in New York City schools are testing positive for COVID after a close contact interaction,” said Chokshi. “Meanwhile, the out-of-school close contact spreading in the city is nearly 14%.”
Father and clinical social worker Fabian Wander spoke about how he had noticed a difference in learning quality and emotional well-being of his own children who attend P.S. 304 in the Bronx.
“This difference is so noticeable that I could tell right away that my boys are doing much better,” Wander said.
Following the press conference, President of the United Federation of Teachers Michael Mulgrew issued a statement addressing the concerns teachers had with returning back to school on Jan 3.
“Teachers are prepared to do their jobs,” said Mulgrew. “The real issue is whether the city can do its job – ensuring that new testing initiatives are available in every school. We are moving closer to a safe re-opening of school next week. But we are not there yet.”