On April 8, 2021, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that school buildings would no longer close for 10 days if two or more cases of COVID-19 are discovered a building. Instead, if any school has two or more positive cases in different classrooms within seven days, in addition to moving those classrooms to remote learning for 10 days, testing will be increased to 40 percent for that school building for the next weekly testing cycle. If four or more cases are found in different classrooms within one school in a seven-day period, and those cases can be traced to a common exposure within the school, the entire school will move to remote learning for 10 days.
In response, UFT President Michael Mulgrew issued the following statement:
Our rigorous COVID precautions have meant that schools have been the safest public spaces in New York City — with an infection rate of less than 1%, even when community infection rates are much higher.
One component, agreed to by our independent medical experts, was the two-case rule — temporarily closing schools where two unlinked cases of COVID had been discovered (unlinked cases are cases in different classrooms or in student pods that were not in contact with each other).
Now, with our increased knowledge about the spread of the virus, and as more teachers and other school staff have been vaccinated, our medical experts are convinced that the rule can be changed and still maintain safety.
Our goal, then and now, is to ensure that the school building does not become a center for the spread of the virus from the community.
Under our new agreement with the city, any classroom where infection is discovered will be immediately closed. Testing for the entire school will double — from the current 20% to 40% — if two or more classrooms are affected.
If infections are discovered in four different classrooms from a known source in the school, the school will be closed for 10 days.
This change will mean that while many classrooms will continue to close, the number of overall schools closed will decline, a repeated request of both teachers and parents.
While this is a step forward, the most important fact in the public school opening debate is that the overwhelming majority — some 700,000 public school families — continue to opt for remote instruction.
If we are going to have anything like a normal opening in September, the mayor needs to find ways to assure them that our COVID precautions remain strong and that schools are safe for their children.