There are several weeks left in the school year, but all eyes are on the fall. With the increasing numbers of New Yorkers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, more of the city has opened up to its usual pace. But some places are still in the proverbial dark.
One of those places is the city’s public schools. The next weeks are a test run for September.
Over the past year, teachers, students and local and state governments have ping-ponged between all virtual, in-person and hybrid learning. Lack of trust has developed on all sides of the equation. The current news seems to show that the tug-of-war isn’t over.
Late last week, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the lifting of the mask mandate for all schools inside and outside. It would have gone into effect this past Monday.
Then the governor had a change of heart.
After the State Education Department had already sent rules and guidance to schools to wait for the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s approval, Cuomo then said that while the indoor mask mandate stays for schools, outside masks are at the school’s discretion.
“The numbers show that the risk of transmission by children is extremely low, especially in this state, which has an extremely low positivity rate,” said Cuomo during a Monday news briefing. “You have states in this nation that have multiples of our positivity rate. We spoke with the CDC. They have policy guidance for schools nationwide. So their policy guidance is for the lowest positivity rate state and the highest positivity rate state.”
The latest 7-day rolling average COVID positive tests is clocking at less than 1%. In New York City, it’s 0.4%. The lowest in the state. While other regions have close to similar numbers, the tennis ball approach to school rules has left some perplexed.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta found the new development unsettling after being told by the state that the mask mandate was heading in a different direction.
“Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday—with only three weeks remaining in the school year—is whiplash-inducing news,” said Pallotta. “Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community.”
The low positive test rates in New York City mask the underbelly of testing in the Black and Latino communities.
As the AmNews previously reported, the Bronx is the least vaccinated borough in the city. Only 40% of the Bronx received the first COVID-19 vaccine and only 26% of Black Bronx residents have received at least one dose.
While things have changed a bit, a recent study by the CDC in May said that among 169 K-5 schools that didn’t wear masks and ones that did, between Nov. 16 and Dec. 11, the latter had 37% lower infection rates than the former.
Despite all of this Cuomo said that his actions were given the stamp of approval by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
“They’re not going to change their guidance for several weeks,” Cuomo said. “In New York State, we’re going to modify the CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no mask outside for children. In other words, children wear masks in school, inside. When they’re outside of the school building in recess, et cetera, it’s hot, they’re running around, but they’re outside, there is no mandate for masks outside. We’ll leave that up to the local school district. We spoke to CDC and CDC has no objection to that and is fine with it.”
The state believes that, based on the current COVID trajectory of negative tests and vaccinations, all schools should be ready for full in-person learning by September.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is attempting to give the vaccine to more kids before the school year ends. The mayor said that the city provided incentives for kids to get vaccinated, setting up vaccine locations next to the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium and the American Museum of Natural History. Places, according to de Blasio, “that parents and kids love.”
He’s also bringing vaccination sites closer than that. For the final weeks of the school year, he’s installing vaccination sites at certain schools around the five boroughs to raise the number of vaccinated children.
“We’re going to get the most done,” said the mayor. “We can between now and the end of the school year later this month.”