Fake morgue bags and coffins are seen near the entrance of United Federation of Teachers as symbol of students dead by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as people take part in a march and rally during the National Day of Resistance to schools re-opening in New York City, U.S., August 3, 2020.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that all school districts across the state have been authorized to reopen for the fall semester, including New York City, with individual school districts awaiting approval from the health department on their plans to keep children and staff safe.
“You look at our infection rate, we probably are in the best situation in the country right now,” Cuomo told reporters on a conference call. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools. And that’s true for every region in the state, period.”
Cuomo said there are 749 districts that have to submit plans to the New York State Department of Health on how they plan to keep children and staff safe while attending classes in person. The plans need to provide details for remote learning, testing and contact tracing, he said.
He said 127 districts have not submitted plans and 50 have plans that are either incomplete or deficient. Cuomo said how schools are going to test students and teachers is particularly a “high level of concern.”
Questions remain about reopening schools, Cuomo said. Most of the plans will likely say a child must be tested for the coronavirus if they have a high temperature, he said. If a student tests positive, schools may need to do contact tracing, including testing people who were in the class with the student, he said. Teachers also want to know how they can get a test and how it would be done, he said.
Cuomo said he’s been “deluged” with calls from parents and teachers about schools reopening, saying there’s a “significant amount of anxiety and concern.” Schools need to set up a minimum of three education sessions with parents to go through their plans. However, larger school districts need five, he said.
School districts can choose how they want to conduct classes, he said. “They can do in-person school, but it is up to them. In-person, hybrid, outdoor education, remote education, a blend, half-day, quarter-day, third-day, that is all up to their discretion,” he said.
“Our school guidance has been touted as the smartest in the country,” he said. “But we’ve been successful because we’ve been smart, and we have to continue to be smart.”
Whether and how to reopen schools in the U.S. this fall has become a hotbed issue in recent weeks. The U.S. has the worst outbreak in the world with more than 4 million cases so far and at least 160,111 deaths as of Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. New York state, once the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., now has one of the lowest rates of new cases in the nation. Researchers say the role kids play in spreading the disease is still unclear.
Late last month, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned of “significant public health consequences” if schools don’t reopen in the fall.
About “7.1 million kids get their mental health service at schools,” he told a House Select Subcommittee hearing on July 31. “They get their nutritional support from their schools. We’re seeing an increase in drug use disorder as well as suicide in adolescent individuals. I do think that it’s really important to realize it’s not public health versus the economy about school reopening.”
President Donald Trump has also pushed for schools to reopen as fall approaches regardless of the state of the outbreak, saying that keeping schools closed “is causing death also.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, has been critical of Trump’s coronavirus response, describing the pandemic in the U.S. at one point as a “virus of American division and federal incompetence.”