Amid the reopening of schools in New York City and the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, parents, school officials, government authorities, and health experts are doing their best to deal with the ongoing pandemic while allowing learners to move forward in their academic endeavors.
Here are some news bits we’ve gathered about the ups and downs of school reopening in its first few weeks and why regular COVID-19 testing is crucial.
No Vaccine, No Work For School Employees In New York
An October 1 Washington Post article tells us that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has turned down requests to block the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Apparently, a group of educators asked to block the city’s vaccination requirement for public school employees. The court did not give any explanation or comment about the decision, although authorities have previously warned that those who fail to show proof of vaccination or medical or religious exemption can be removed from their respective payrolls.
The policy – which is expected to affect around 150,000 school employees – has since drawn mixed reactions.
Although already vaccinated, 46-year-old Manhattan middle school support staff member Maurice Jones couldn’t help but feel bad for his colleagues who’d end up having unpaid leave for a year due to the mandate.
In an interview with the media, Jones said:
“If they’ve got to get tested more they’ve got to get tested more. I don’t think they should lose their job.”
Closure Of Almost 60 NYC Classrooms Due To New COVID Cases
Within the first two days of the new academic year, the Department of Education has reported that rising COVID-19 cases have led to the closure of classrooms in New York City.
Although no schools have been shut down as of yet, 58 classrooms have been placed under full closure while 86 had partial closures, according to the DOE. Over 200 public school staff members and students have tested positive for the virus.
Despite this, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio still firmly believes it’s high time for children to return to schools for face-to-face learning experiences. That’s why all remote learning options were removed this year.
“There are kids who have not been in a classroom in a year and a half, and they deserve better,” he told reporters. “Kids need to be back in school for their mental health, their physical health, their ability to develop socially, and for so many reasons.”
In addition, New York Governor Kathy Hochul described remote learning as “an interesting experiment” and “a disaster.” She also emphasized the importance of vaccinating 12- to 17-year-old students amid rising COVID cases in the state.
“Keeping them unvaccinated during a global pandemic — which is not over yet, my friends — is something I can’t comprehend as a parent,” Hochul remarked.
How Parents Feel About Vaccinating Young Children
According to Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor research conducted among 1,519 adults, only “a third (34%) of parents” are willing to have their children aged 5 to 11 years jabbed as soon as the vaccine is made available. On the other hand, 34% of parents would rather “wait and see,” 24% “will definitely not” have their children vaccinated, while 7% admitted they will only oblige if vaccination for kids becomes required for the age group.
Among parents of 12 to 17-year-old children, 48% reported that their children have already received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 15% are in the “wait and see” mode, 21% would “definitely not” get their adolescent children vaccinated, and 4% would receive vaccination “only if required.”
“This Is A Pretty Fast Disease.”
Public health experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm, pointing out that staff members and students who have been close contacts of those who tested positive should be immediately placed in quarantine. That way, further spread of the virus could be prevented.
NYU Grossman School of Medicine assistant professor Anna Bershetyn summed up the dilemma of day-long delayed quarantining this way:
“That’s a really large missed opportunity to reduce transmission. This is a pretty fast disease.”
Conversely, NYC DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer has told Newsweek:
“We follow stringent guidance from health experts to prevent any further transmission by quarantining close contacts, closing classrooms, and, if necessary, entire buildings. Learning will continue during quarantine and we will provide the school resources and support to have a successful school year.”
The Crucial Role of Regular COVID-19 Testing
Now that officials are taking the initiative to make in-person learning possible again, prompt COVID-19 testing both for students and staff members will play a big role in this new normal.
In the middle of different opinions between authorities and the general public, a post by the official website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has strongly emphasized the importance of regular COVID-19 testing for schools.
According to the CDC:
“Regular testing, in addition to COVID-19 vaccination, is a safe, effective way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help keep schools open for in-person learning. Many people with COVID-19, especially children and teens, don’t have symptoms but can still spread the virus, so regular testing helps find people who have the virus before it can spread to others.”
Moreover, the health agency mentioned that proper testing is a must in order to “help keep students in the classroom” and to “allow them to take part in the other activities they love.”
NYC’s Policy For Testing Students
So far, NYC DOE’s plan is for all schools to “randomly test unvaccinated students, who have submitted consent for testing” on a weekly basis.
The agency gave assurances that school-based COVID-19 testing will be “easy, quick, and safe” for children since only short swabs will be used, as opposed to the common long swabs. If a child tests positive, parents are advised to “contact your child’s doctor immediately to review the test results and discuss what you should do next.”
In the foreseeable future, regular COVID-19 testing will surely be one of the keys to allowing in-person learning to continue across New York City and beyond. That way, those who contract the virus will be isolated and then receive treatment as necessary.