Health and Science

New York Gov. Cuomo says schools should plan as if they are reopening in September, but it's too early to decide

Key Points
  • It's too early and scientists still don't understand enough about the coronavirus to say whether New York public schools will reopen in the fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
  • The state is moving forward with preparation for a fall reopening, but Cuomo said he will not make a decision until more information is available.
  • Cuomo expressed specific concern over the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says could be caused by Covid-19. 
Cuomo: N.Y. will review plan to reopen schools in September, too early to decide

New York public schools should start preparing plans to reopen this fall, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday it's too early to know for sure whether that will happen.

The state will issue guidelines to schools at the beginning of June detailing what they need to do to reopen, and schools will be required to submit plans to the state for review, he said. 

"The state will approve those plans in July all in preparation for an opening in September," Cuomo said at a news briefing. "But we don't want to make that decision until we have more facts."

Health officials have said it's still unclear to what degree the coronavirus affects kids, most of whom are asymptomatic, and what role young people play as potential spreaders of the virus.

Reopening schools is complicated by the discovery of a possible new Covid-19 complication in kids, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said could be caused by the coronavirus

Further research into MIS-C is needed before a decision can be made about summer camps and schools in the fall, Cuomo said. 

"Until we have an answer on this pediatric syndrome, as a parent, until I know how widespread this, I wouldn't send my children to day camp," he said. "And I if I won't send my children to day camp, I wouldn't ask anyone else to send their children to day camp."

The discovery last month of the syndrome, which causes inflammation in various organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain, has cast doubt on initial studies early in the outbreak that showed the virus largely spared children. The syndrome remains rare and most young Covid-19 patients report just mild symptoms, according to the CDC. However, the virus can cause serious disease in children with at least three MIS-C pediatric fatalities in New York.

Last week, 7 countries and 17 states and Washington D.C. reported cases of the syndrome, Cuomo said. Since then, the number of countries reporting the syndrome has nearly doubled to 13 and the number of states now stands at 25 and D.C., Cuomo said. He added that New York state is investigating 157 cases of the syndrome. At least three kids have died from the disease, ranging from ages 5 to 18, Cuomo previously said.

"This inflammatory syndrome is more frightening than Covid respiratory illness in some ways because it inflames the heart," Cuomo said. "We know it exists. We don't know how widespread it is."

While the syndrome appears to be rare, there hasn't been enough clinical research to determine how widespread it might be, said Dr. Amina Ahmed, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina. She added that there has been one confirmed case of MIS-C in North Carolina.

"Unless we systematically study these children, meaning do the PCR testing, repeat it if we're suspicious and it comes back negative and then follow it up with serological tests, we're not really going to know," she told CNBC. "But enough cases have been described now that we're definitely suspicious that this is Covid-related."

The symptoms are similar to Kawasaki disease, which occurs year-round, Ahmed said, adding that it's difficult to identify patients for MIS-C as opposed to Kawasaki disease until they begin to develop some of the more severe symptoms. She added that there does not appear to be any explanation at this point as to why some kids develop the syndrome while others don't.

"There's certainly not any co-morbidities," she said. "The vast majority of these kids have been totally healthy."