NEW YORK — New York City will double coronavirus testing in its public schools and will no longer shut down classrooms if a student tests positive, instead allowing students to return to school if they test negative.
Under a new policy announced by outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday, when a virus case is found in a class, all students in the class will be given a rapid at-home test kit. If they test negative and have no symptoms, they can return to school the next day. They’ll get a second rapid test within seven days.
“The science is clear. Schools need to be open,” de Blasio said in making the announcement. “This guarantees more consistency in their education. It guarantees fewer disruptions.”
Students will be returning to school next week after a holiday break amid a massive virus spike driven by the Omicron variant, and an increase in hospitalizations of children.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who will be in office when schools reopen on Jan. 3, and Gov. Kathy Hochul joined de Blasio for a virtual briefing Tuesday to present a united front in combating the outbreak.
The state will provide two million at-home tests for city schools.
Details: Previously, unvaccinated students were required to quarantine for 10 days if someone in their class tested positive, leading to the complete or partial shutdown of many classrooms.
The city will also double the number of PCR tests done each week in schools, from 40,000 to 80,000.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated students will now be subject to testing. Previously, the city tested only unvaccinated students.
However, only students whose parents have signed a consent form will be part of the random testing. Thus far, about 330,000 of the system’s roughly one million students have submitted those forms.
When a virus case is identified, students or their parents will be allowed to attest that they have tested negative at home, and will not be required to provide proof.
Key context: The city has faced calls, including from incoming city Comptroller Brad Lander, to require all students and school staff to be tested before returning after the holiday break.
De Blasio said officials have concluded that universal testing is not feasible.
In response to the mayor, Lander said in a statement: “But as Omicron spreads rapidly in our city, requiring and providing tests before students, teachers and staff go back to classrooms would go a long way to slowing this outbreak. And we should be requiring families to opt out of testing, rather than opt in. Otherwise, we’ll still only be testing a very small percentage of students.”
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, voiced some skepticism about the plan’s viability. “Teachers are prepared to do their jobs starting January 3rd. The real issue is whether the city can do its job — ensuring that new testing initiatives are available in every school and an improved Situation Room is actually in place by next week,” Mulgrew said in a statement, referencing the facility that tracks Covid cases in schools. He said the room has been “basically coming apart in the last several weeks.”
“We are moving closer to a safe re-opening of school next week. But we are not there yet,” Mulgrew added.
What’s next: Adams said he will maintain de Blasio’s approach to schools after he takes office on Saturday.
“You and the governor and I are sending a clear message to New Yorkers and to [the] entire country that we are together to fight this real battle we have,” he said. “Your children are safer in school. The numbers speak for themselves.”
By the numbers: The city reported 20,200 new Covid-19 cases on a seven-day average Tuesday, a number that has spiked dramatically in the last few weeks. Hospitals admitted 332 new patients, also a marked increase.
De Blasio said new infections have reached a “staggering number” but “one that hopefully will be very, very brief” if the Omicron surge passes quickly.