New York City's schools will move to remote learning only as the city tries to tamp down a growing number of coronavirus cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.
The shuttering of the nation's largest school system had been anticipated for days after de Blasio told parents on Friday to have a plan in place in case the city decided to close schools for in-person learning, NBC News New York reported. Remote learning will begin Thursday, the mayor said in breaking the news over Twitter.
"We're in the middle of something really tough right now," de Blasio said at a press briefing Monday. "We have put health and safety first, and we will put health and safety first."
The mayor said the city would close classrooms if the citywide positivity rate, or the percent of Covid-19 tests that are positive, hits an average of 3%. That was reached on Wednesday.
"We will have an update in the next couple of days on the plan to bring back the schools. What additional standards will be needed," de Blasio said at a press conference shortly after announcing the closures Wednesday. "We warned parents days ago that this moment might come, but we had to be 100% sure we were accurate this morning, and we had to have that conversation with the state."
On a call with reporters Friday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the city has the authority to close schools if local officials think it's appropriate.
Mayor de Blasio was forced to delay the start of in-person learning twice earlier this fall after union leaders objected to the lack of health measures to protect teachers, students and staff from the coronavirus.
The schools will shutter their classrooms even as indoor dining at restaurants and the city's gyms, which experts say are at high risk for spreading virus, remain open at a reduced capacity. De Blasio has said that the city would try to safely reopening the schools as soon as possible if they were closed due to the outbreak.
"The problem is not coming from the schools. It's coming from the bars, the restaurants, the gyms and the living room family spread," Cuomo said on a call with reporters on Friday. "So if in fact you do close schools, I would urge the mayor and all involved to open them as quickly as possible."
Cuomo has suggested de Blasio try to allow some classrooms to reopen by implementing a school-by-school closing system. In other parts of the state, a school could return for in-person learning after remaining closed for at least four days to allow for adequate cleaning and then would be required to test students, faculty and staff before they re-enter, Cuomo said at a news briefing Wednesday.
However, there's not enough testing capacity to allow that "test out" system in New York City, he said.
"THIS IS TOTALLY BACKWARDS," Mark Levine, a New York City councilmember who chairs the health committee, said in a tweet posted after the announcement.
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine and a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden, told CNBC last week that she was concerned the city's "prioritizing the wrong things" as the mayor instructed families to prepare for online learning.
"We know that the biggest spreaders of the infection are indoor dining, bars, indoor gyms and indoor social gatherings, which may be private gatherings," she said. "It's not schools. Now, it's not to say that there is no transmission in schools, but they are far less important in terms of community transmission than are some of these other settings."