NYC Schools Will Increase COVID-19 Testing to Stay Open

NEW YORK (AP) -
A sign encouraging people to wear masks when picking up their children is posted outside M363 in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman)

New York City will increase COVID-19 testing in schools when the holiday break ends next week in an effort to keep classrooms open despite a surge in infections due to the highly infectious omicron variant of the virus, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

New York state will provide the city’s public schools with 2 million at-home test kits so that tests can be sent home with students if a classmate tests positive, de Blasio said, and students who test negative won’t have to quarantine.

“This is how we are going to look at schools from this point on, keep them safe and keep them open,” de Blasio said. “Wide distribution of at-home test kits to every classroom. And when there’s a positive case in a classroom every child takes home at-home test kits. Every child who tests negative comes back to school. It’s as simple as that. So long as they’re asymptomatic, and so long as they test negative, they keep coming to school.”

Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who will take over from his fellow Democrat on Jan. 1, said he supports the plan.

“Two clear messages we’re sending loud and clear,” said Adams, who joined de Blasio’s virtual coronavirus briefing. “Your children are safer in school. The numbers speak for themselves. And we are united to make sure they continue to be safe.”

New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest with about a million students, was one of the first in the nation to reopen to in-person learning after the pandemic hit in 2020, but frequent school or classroom closings due to COVID-19 cases proved disruptive.

The new approach will guarantee more consistency, de Blasio said.

In addition to distributing at-home tests, the city will double the number of random COVID-19 tests it conducts in schools and will include vaccinated as well as unvaccinated students, the mayor said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who also joined the virtual news conference, has stressed the importance of keeping schools open across the state. Hochul called remote learning “a failed experiment” despite “the very best efforts of incredibly hardworking, passionate teachers who did their very best.”

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, thanked Hochul for providing the 2 million home test kits “so that anyone with close contact with a positive case will be able to know immediately if they are infectious and must quarantine.”

COVID-19 cases have surged in New York City thanks to the emergence of the omicron variant. Health officials reported about 22,000 new cases of the virus a day in the week that ended Sunday, up from 3,400 a day in the week that ended Dec. 12.