The City is boosting the frequency of public middle and high school COVID-19 testing later this month after dozens of cases of the virus were detected in schools during the first week of classes.
Starting the week of Sept. 27, 10% of unvaccinated middle and high school students and staff will undergo weekly COVID testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. The City’s previous COVID-19 testing policy only required unvaccinated school community members to be tested for the virus every two weeks.
In addition, the City will stop requiring the unvaccinated students to quarantine after a fellow student or school staffer in their classroom tests positive for the virus as long as they were masked and sitting three feet apart from their peers.
The shift comes a day after President of the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers union, Michael Mulgrew demanded the City change its COVID testing policy shortly after an outbreak of the virus caused an East Harlem high school serving special needs students to temporarily shutter its doors.
On Sunday, President Mulgrew told amNewYork Metro that the City representation had told the union earlier this summer it would be unable to rollout weekly testing due to ¨capacity issues.¨
¨More testing teams, basically, that´s just what they need to do is increase the number of testing teams and they can get done what we did last year,¨ said Mulgrew.
Officials on Monday could not provide an exact number of students and staff at the District 75 school that tested positive for the virus but Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer tweeted over the weekend that her office had received word of at least 19 confirmed cases of the virus within the building.
When asked by reporters Monday to clarify why he issued the sudden change in school testing and quarantining policy, de Blasio responded by claiming the new policy was something officials had been keeping in their back pocket all along.
“This has been a conversation that has been going on for several weeks but we wanted to see what happened the first week of school,” de Blasio told reporters. “We came to the conclusion that to achieve both our goals, health and safety first and then keeping the maximum number of kids in the school the right way, these two actions together would actually improve our overall situation.”
The first week of school for New York City public school students began Sept. 13 during which 165 students and staff have tested positive for the virus prompting 445 full classroom closures and 326 partial classroom closures. The East Harlem school, P.S. 79 on East 120 St., is the first school to complete close because of the virus. All 277 students will shift to remote learning for the next week and will be allowed to return to the building on Sept. 28.
Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter told reporters Monday that students and staff were ready to shift to Google classrooms Monday morning.
¨Before we even started our school year we had our classrooms and our teachers set up on Google classroom because we new that this would be a part of our story,¨ said Porter. ¨Getting back to in-person learning also meant there would be remote days.¨
De Blasio reaffirmed Monday that he would not offer a centralized remote option for students this fall.
The UFT applauded the City for doubling the amount of COVID-19 testing in schools but expressed frustration in the mayor´s sudden decision to drastically change quarantining protocols for unvaccinated students.
¨Maybe in the Mayor’s universe all children keep their distance, wear their masks correctly and leave them on all day, but in the real world of our schools, this just isn’t so, particularly in the many schools that are overcrowded,¨ Mulgrew said in a statement. ¨Children – particularly the youngest who are most vulnerable to the Delta variant – need more protection than the Mayor is offering with this recent, ill-considered decision.”