The Department of Education launched a COVID-19 command center to improve communication between school districts and principals to help minimize infections and prevent school shutdowns, Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks said Monday morning.
During an appearance in the Bronx, Adams said the command center would be in operation in order to combat the Omicron variant and to keep schools open in accordance with the “Stay Safe and Stay Open” policy introduced by former Mayor Bill de Blasio last year.
“We want to be very clear,” said Adams as he spoke at Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx on Monday. “The safest place for our children is in a school building.”
The command center also works to allow all school staff to report pandemic-related issues, including lack of staff or issues with school testing protocols.
“All indications are that we are in a pretty good place right now and we will be prepared to make whatever adjustments are needed,” said Banks.
Jan. 3 marked the start of new in-class regulation including doubling testing for students both vaccinated and unvaccinated, with teachers and faculty also being eligible and encouraged to test as well.
Mayor Adams also stressed that he wants to mandate in-school testing, but that approval needs to come from the federal government in order to be approved and that he is currently working wit Governor Kathy Hochul to negotiate the change in testing protocol.
Speaking at the American Sign Language and English Lower School in Manhattan, President Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) expressed some hesitation and concern with schools reopening after the holidays with record high numbers of COVID-19 infections.
“Right now there is no protocol for students who do contract the virus and have parents or guardians who work full time, are immunocompromised or otherwise unable to tend to their sick children,” Mulgrew told amNewYork Metro. “The city needs to come up with a program for that and I told the mayor and the chancellor that these are situations we need contingencies in place for.”
However, Adams reiterated that schools are safer places for children that homes stating that “less than one percent of children are infected,” whereas “at home, over 15%,” although it was unclear where he received those statistics.
Meanwhile, Lydia Howrilka, a union organizer with the United Federation of Teachers Solidarity expressed concern with the decision to reopen schools after the winter break, calling it a “dangerous and unsustainable plan” in an email statement.
“We have been telling the city for almost two years that school buildings are not safe,” said Howrilka. “The science behind this virus is constantly shifting and changing every day. At this time, schools are not safe for students and staff. We must be fully remote until we can have better access to testing or until the post-holiday surge of COVID subsides.”