New York City will close its public schools from Thursday and shift to online instruction as coronavirus cases climb in the city, which was hammered by the disease during the pandemic’s early months.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon, confirming speculation that had spread among anxious parents and school administrators.
The decision was taken under a policy agreed earlier this year that the nation’s largest public school system would close its doors if New York City’s seven-day average of positive Covid tests breached 3 per cent.
Mr De Blasio said that it had now breached that threshold. Many local politicians and parents have objected, saying that the positivity rate within the schools was far lower than the city at large. But Mr De Blasio has argued in recent days that it was essential for public trust that he follow the agreed policy.
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New York City began to reopen its classrooms in late September, an occasion that Mr de Blasio held up as a milestone in the recovery of a city that was the US epicentre of the pandemic in its early months. Reopening schools has been a priority not only to improve children’s instruction but also because so many working parents rely on the schools as a form of childcare.
But coronavirus cases have been rising in the city since the start of autumn, as they have in nearly all parts of the US. Public officials have put this down to various factors including increased testing capacity, but also behavioural changes such as “Covid fatigue”, with people chafing at social restrictions, and the onset of cooler weather.
Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York state, was finishing a separate press conference when he was informed by reporters of Mr de Blasio’s decision.
“So, that 3 per cent [threshold] the mayor set, in my opinion, [was] in a collaborative [effort] with the parents, and that was the agreement and the agreement should be honoured,” he said, adding that he understood why the mayor had made that decision.
The school closure comes a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, which public health experts and elected officials have warned has the potential to accelerate the pandemic’s already rapid spread as families gather indoors to celebrate.
“You will see a tremendous spike after Thanksgiving. Tremendous spike,” Mr Cuomo warned on Wednesday.
The US reported 155,201 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing the total past 11.2m. Hospitalisations hit a record 76,830, about 28 per cent higher than the longstanding peak from mid-April, when the pandemic was raging in north-eastern states including New York. Nearly 240,000 people have died, according to Covid Tracking Project data.
After easing some of the most restrictive shutdown measures over the summer months, New York and many other states have been moving to once again tighten curbs on social and economic activity in recent days. Among the measures they have taken include capping indoor social gatherings, imposing curfews on bars and restaurants, and expanding mask-wearing requirements.
Public schools in Detroit have switched to online-only instruction for now, and the state of Michigan has told high schools and colleges to shut down in-person instruction for three weeks. The city of Philadelphia has also ordered high schools and colleges to halt in-person learning until January 1.