New York City public schools will stay closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the spread of the coronavirus, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Saturday.
"There's nothing easy about this decision," the mayor said during a press briefing. The decision means that 1.1 million students in the largest school system in the country will go without routine schooling for more than three months this year.
However, shortly after the mayor's press briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the announcement was de Blasio's "opinion" and that there was no official decision yet.
"He didn't close them and he can't open them," Cuomo said at his own news conference. "We may do that, but we're going to do that in a coordinated sense with the other localities."
About 1,800 schools in the city's five boroughs initially shut down and shifted to remote education on March 16, creating a slew of massive challenges for teachers, parents and students.
School shutdowns have been especially difficult for students who don't have access to internet or computers at home. Roughly three-quarters of the city's public school system is comprised of low-income children who receive free or discounted meals at school. The city has struggled to lend out equipment to students and has left some school buildings open for parents to pick up food.
The mayor faced intense pressure from teachers and parents calling for the suspension of classes, and was initially resistant to the idea before eventually suspending schools until late April.
He said on Saturday that closing schools for the rest of the year is "painful" but "the right thing to do." More than a dozen other states have already shut down public schools for the rest of year, including Pennsylvania, Vermont and California.
"It clearly will help us save lives because it will help us guarantee that the strategies that have been working, the shelter-in-place, the social distancing, all the focused strategies that are finally beginning to bear fruit, they need the time to continue to be effective," de Blasio said.
New York City has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll in the city reached 5,065 on Friday, with the most confirmed cases and deaths concentrated in Brooklyn and Queens. There are more than 170,512 confirmed cases in New York state and at least 7,844 people have died.
Despite the shocking death toll, the number of intensive care beds occupied in New York dropped for the first time on Friday, and the hospitalization curve has shown some early signs of potentially flattening. Still, the state saw the largest increase in the number of confirmed cases from Thursday to Friday.
"The worst mistake we could make is to take our foot off the gas and end up in a situation where this disease had a resurgence and threatened us even more," de Blasio said.
"We're not gonna allow the coronavirus to start to attack us even more and to make sure it doesn't, we have to be cautious," he added.
-- Jasmine Kim contributed reporting