NYC schools will reopen with more Covid-19 testing to limit closures

New York City, home to the nation’s largest school system, will scrap its current Covid-19 whole classroom isolation policy, and will instead use an integrated testing program to allow allow asymptomatic students who test negative for coronavirus to remain at school.

The new policy, which Mayor Bill de Blasio calls “Stay Safe and Open,” will go into effect January 3, when nearly a million students are enrolled in the city’s public schools. ​back after the holidays.

Mr. de Blasio, Governor Kathy Hochul and newly elected Mayor Eric Adams, who took office on Sunday, appeared together at a news conference on Tuesday to present a united front against the shutdown. schools, despite the huge increase in cases due to the Omicron variant that has only gotten worse in the days since schools in the city closed for winter break last week.

“Your child is safer at school, the numbers speak for themselves,” Mr. Adams said.

Instead of delaying the start of in-person schooling and transitioning to distance learning, as some other school districts across the state and country are doing, the city will work toward detecting more infections in the classroom. while minimizing disruption. Ms Hochul thanked educators for their work during the closure, but calling distance learning “a failed experiment” was extremely difficult for many students and caused major disruption.

Hundreds of classrooms closed completely or partially last week. The city’s previous policy was to isolate unvaccinated close students for 10 days. Many primary school children in particular are still unvaccinated despite being eligible.

Now, instead of sending classes of unvaccinated students home to study online when one or more students test positive, students will be able to take quick tests at home. If they are asymptomatic and test negative, they can return the day after the first negative test. The student will then be given a second home test within seven days of exposure.

But that doesn’t mean the new semester won’t be interrupted. New York will still close all schools when there is evidence of a large spread within the school.

Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said: “Schools remain one of the safest environments in our community.

He said that even as virus rates continue to rise across the city and in schools, “we estimate that in schools, about 98% of close contacts end up not developing Covid.” -19.”

Mrs. Hochul said on Monday that she’s sending two million quick home tests to New York City schools in the coming days.

Dr. Michael Mina, a former Harvard University epidemiologist, is a strong advocate of using testing to keep classrooms open and kids in school.

But Dr. Mina, who is currently the scientific director of eMed, The company, which distributes home tests, said that testing children twice a week in classrooms where a simple infection is detected would not be enough to significantly reduce transmission. Instead, he said, those who have been exposed should be tested every day.

By testing just twice, “you are very likely to miss when someone becomes infectious and potentially a super-spreader,” he said. “This virus easily goes from 0 to 100 in a day or maybe two days.”

17 of the city’s approximately 1,600 schools are temporarily closed for the fall semester, with more than half of the school closures occurring in the final two weeks.

Mr. de Blasio has faced criticism for accepting only a small percentage of students who agree in schools for random surveillance tests – about 10% at each school each week. The city aims to increase randomization to include 20 percent of students in each school weekly.

In another, the city will now test both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, while for months the city will only test unvaccinated students. Omicrons are extremely contagious, even among vaccinated people.

But there’s a catch: Only students whose parents have given them permission to be tested are eligible, meaning many children are not participating in the effort. City officials plan to encourage more parents to choose their children into the random experimental group.

City and state officials have also emphasized in recent days that many special-eligible young children need vaccinations to keep schools safe in the Omicron context. The city sent vaccine trucks to schools when the first shot was released for young children this fall, but it’s now significantly easier for parents to find an appointment for the first dose or Monday.

Joseph Goldstein contributed reporting.

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