Elementary schools to reopen in NYC despite coronavirus surge

New York, home to the country's largest school district, currently has a 3.1 per cent positive virus test rate.
New York, home to the country's largest school district, currently has a 3.1 per cent positive virus test rate.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • New York City will reopen elementary schools on Dec 7 and offer in-person classes for special needs students of all ages despite a recent surge in coronavirus cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said.

With many parents struggling to care for students at home and with data showing the virus largely spares young children, the city dropped a requirement for schools to close if the rate of positive virus tests exceeds 3 per cent for a week. New York, home to the country's largest school district, currently has a 3.1 per cent rate.

The mayor told reporters on Sunday the reopening was possible "because we have so much proof now of how safe schools can be". He said returning students would be subjected to weekly Covid-19 tests.

He also said on Twitter that five-day in-person instruction would be the preferred model for schools with space to allow social distancing. Up to now, in-person school has been offered only two or three times a week.

"We want our kids in the classroom for as much time as possible," Mayor de Blasio, a Democrat, said. "Our families do, too. We'll work to make it happen."

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced support for welcoming back its younger students. "Just about every professional says the schools, especially K-8, should be kept open whenever it's possible to keep them open safely," he said, referring to the first nine years of school in the US.

Classes for New York's middle school and high school students - except for those with special needs - will remain online.

Meanwhile, top US scientist Anthony Fauci warned on Sunday that America should prepare for a "surge upon a surge" in coronavirus cases as millions of travellers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday. The United States is the worst-affected country with over 266,887 Covid-19 deaths, and President Donald Trump's administration has issued conflicting messages on mask-wearing, travel and the danger posed by the virus. "There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel," Dr Fauci told CNN's State of the Union.

Travel surrounding last Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday made last week the busiest week in US airports since the pandemic began. "We may see a surge upon a surge" in two or three weeks, Dr Fauci said. "We don't want to frighten people, but that's the reality."

The trend is ominous, Dr Fauci and other government scientists said, with the Christmas holidays soon bringing more travel and family gatherings.

Dr Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, noted a surge in Covid-19 after a holiday weekend in May. "Now we're entering this post-Thanksgiving surge with three, four and 10 times as much disease across the country," she told CBS's "Face the Nation." "We are deeply worried."

Yesterday, Moderna Inc said it will apply for US and European emergency authorisation for its vaccine after full results from a late-stage study showed it was 94.1 per cent effective.

The filing sets Moderna's product up to be the second vaccine likely to receive US emergency use authorisation this year following a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Moderna said it was on track to have about 20 million doses of its vaccine ready to ship in the US by the end of this year.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2020, with the headline 'Elementary schools to reopen in NYC despite virus surge'. Print Edition | Subscribe