COVID schools crisis is testing Eric Adams in his early days as mayor
Facing his first major test as mayor, Eric Adams pledged on Monday to keep New York’s public schools open despite a record number of COVID cases in the city, even though a third of the children remained at home while classes resumed after the holidays.
“We want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is in a school building,” the mayor said at a press conference after visiting Concourse Village Elementary School in the Bronx. âAnd we’re going to keep our schools open and make sure our children are safe in a safe environment. “
As nearly a million children were expected to return to public school classrooms, children infected with COVID – almost all unvaccinated – fill hospital intensive care units, those who treat them say.
City teachers union called for temporary distance learning as New York City combats latest COVID wave, as share of positive COVID tests in all five boroughs reached 22% on Monday.
Some parents and teachers have called for a âwork stoppageâ to protest the lack of a distance school option. Attendance at the city’s schools on Monday was 67.38%, according to the Department of Education, unlike rates which approached 90% this fall.
Data on absences for teachers, administrators and staff from the city’s schools was not immediately available, according to the DOE.
The students who introduced themselves expressed their anxiety.
“I am constantly afraid of catching COVID from the people around me who are unwilling to follow safety precautions properly,” said Katherine Jiang, 16, and a student at Fort Hamilton High School in Bay. Ridge.
She believes schools should resume distance learning – the online education that all students have experienced for part or all of the past year – as cases continue to rise.
âPeople are still missing [in-person] learn because they are afraid of contracting COVID, âshe added. âThey prefer to stay at home.
Test for teachers
School staff also face their own attendance crisis.
But a similar fate could await other schools, like Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School in Ocean Hill, where about a third of the staff called on Monday, third-grade teacher Andrea Castellano told THE CITY.
âMy school was almost at this point. We had 20 absences today, âsaid Castellano, speaking of the teaching and support staff at his school. âThere are no submarines. On a normal day, you may be able to get a [Absent Teacher Reserve] or someone who could cover the class, but with 20 people there is no one to do it.
The teachers combined the lessons as needed, she said.
As the pandemic enters its third year, “the less coherence the policies have,” added Castellano. âIt’s mind-boggling that decisions are made by people who are not in the classrooms, who are not in the schools without really knowing what it is like in reality. ”
But Adams, facing the dreaded recovery from COVID during his first week in office and a wave of infections at an all-time high, said students will stay in school – and stressed the vaccination and distribution of 1.5 million take-out COVID tests as a way for buildings to stay safe.
Adams appears to have an ally in Governor Kathy Hochul, who pledges to keep schools open even as some schools across the state is shifting to distance learning due to understaffing.
In Rochester on Monday, Hochul warned against distance learning, citing accessibility issues for communities of color that may not have access to high-speed internet and other resources.
âThe teachers did their best. The parents did their best. But we are asking too much to try to deal with distance learning children and the disparities between communities across the state, âHochul said.
“We saw 50 children”
Vaccination rates in children are lagging behind, even after Food and Drug Administration approval of vaccines for children as young as 5 years old. Eligible children are not vaccinated, according to the city’s Ministry of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Hospitalizations among unvaccinated school-aged children are increasing rapidly, said Dr James Schneider, chief of the pediatric intensive care unit at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on the Queens County / Nassau border.
âI’m the head of the ICU, and I can tell you right now that we have the most children we’ve ever seen in this whole pandemic admitted to the ICU and hospital, frankly. We have seen 50 children, for example, in hospital today who have COVID and more than half of my intensive care is positive for COVID right now, which is just unheard of, âSchneider told THE CITY.
While some of these children come for other reasons and test positive for COVID in hospital, for many other young patients, the virus itself “contributes to their illness,” he said.
Rates are a “dramatic change” from mid-November when one or two children with COVID may be treated in hospital, Schneider added. The vast majority of children in hospital – some as young as a few weeks old – are not vaccinated and suffer from illnesses ranging from fever and breathing problems like pneumonia to neurological disorders, Schneider said.
âIf your child is vaccinated, the risk of serious infection is exceptionally low. The vaccine is particularly safe and, we now know, effective. And not being vaccinated always puts your child at a higher risk of developing a serious infection – and we see it every day, âhe added.
“Safe by design”
David Banks, the new schools chancellor, described the health and safety protocols in an email sent to schools across the city.
Any student who shows symptoms of COVID or may have been exposed will receive home tests. Anyone who may have been exposed to a positive case can continue to attend school if they have no symptoms and if their test is negative, according to the Department of Education.
Students who test positive for COVID must self-isolate for 10 days after the first positive result.
In the Bronx on Monday morning, Adams and Banks also discussed a new “command center” for directors and district leaders to resolve any issues, although it is not clear how this differs from the ‘current “Situation room” which tracks positive cases in schools.
Banks said that “schools are safe by design” based on mandatory health screenings and tests.
“They must pass a health screening, this building has fully functional ventilation, the use of a universal mask and every adult is vaccinated, âhe said on Monday. âThese measures make schools the safest environments for young people. ”
In an interview on NY1 on Monday night, Banks said “over 98%” of previously quarantined students never got sick or tested positive.
But some students said the mandatory health exams didn’t do much to make them feel safe.
“It’s unnecessary and I feel my safety is in danger,” said Yin Yan Lui, another 16-year-old student at Fort Hamilton High School. âI don’t know how to protect myself from other people who have had it. I would like the school to close because it is really dangerous and scary.
Antonio Zuccardi, a 17-year-old senior at James Madison High School in Midwood, Brooklyn, said he was trying to get out of the latest wave of COVID without getting sick.
âI feel safe even though it increases, but I haven’t turned positive yet,â he said. “I hope to stay that way, but if there are cases, I will take precautions and keep my distance.”
Not vaccinated, in class
In low-income neighborhoods like the one where Castellano teaches, a shortage of testing sites, underlying health issues, low vaccination rates, and racial demographics mean students and their families are at increased risk of getting sick. .
“People in power should think about these dynamics [and] how fair they are across town, âshe said. âIt’s a question of fairness. It is not the same for everyone.
âIt’s a giant experience with the children who are the main pawns for it. They are mostly unvaccinated and the most vulnerable and they do the least to protect them, âsaid Castellano.
Teachers at the Castellano school have also had to largely suspend their scheduled classes in recent weeks due to low student attendance spurred by the influx of new cases.
While less than half of her students showed up for school on Monday, in other classrooms you “could count certain class numbers on the one hand,” forcing teachers to press pause in their instruction. until more students show up.
“It’s a huge disruption.”
Adams strongly rebuffed such concerns.
âI know there are questions about staffing, I know there are questions about testing,â Adams said. âThere are a lot of questions. But we’re going to turn those question marks into an exclamation point – we’re staying open.