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NYC elementary schools reopen for in-person classes, but new outbreaks could change that

CNN Senior Global Affairs Analyst Bianna Golodryga speaks to a New York City mother and teacher about schools opening back up for in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted: Sep 30, 2020 6:11 AM
Updated: Sep 30, 2020 6:11 AM

Elementary school students in New York City streamed back into classrooms with masks, temperature checks and globs of hand sanitizer on Tuesday as the nation's largest school district tries to safely open schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But at the same time, new clusters of Covid-19 in several neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish communities are causing alarm among health officials and could quickly cause city schools to close back down.

New York City's daily positivity rate rose to 3.25%, the first time it has gone over 3% in months, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. The 7-day rolling average positivity rate stands at 1.38%. If that 7-day rate goes over 3%, de Blasio has said that the city will close all schools.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will be meeting with religious leaders in the Orthodox community along with local officials to discuss the clusters.

"This is a concern for their community -- public health concern for their community -- (and) it's also a public health concern for surrounding communities," he said.

"The cluster today can be community spread tomorrow," Cuomo added.

The possibility of a new outbreak would be a major blow to the city, which has attempted to safely reopen public schools for in-person learning.

After two earlier delays, Tuesday's opening for elementary schools is the second wave of a three-part reopening plan for the city's 1.1 million students and 75,000 teachers. Last week, preschoolers and some children with special needs were allowed back into buildings, and middle and high schools are scheduled to be back for in-person learning on Thursday.

Outside Public School 089 in Queens, Anahi Benitez said she felt comfortable with the safety protocols and was excited to bring her daughter Leah Sophia for her first day of in-person class.

"It is different from last year, but we feel confident that the school is doing everything that they can for kids to stay safe," she told CNN.

The in-person education is limited: A hybrid schedule has students in the classroom only a few days a week, with the rest of their learning online. About 54% of students are participating in that blended model, while 46% opted for fully remote learning, according to the latest preference survey results from NYC's Department of Education.

Still, with the in-person classes, New York has taken a step no other major city has even attempted. The Los Angeles Unified School District and the Chicago Public Schools, the nation's second- and third-largest school systems, both opened remotely.d

Concerns over outbreaks

The plan is not without risks. Already, staffers in at least 150 NYC school buildings have tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Department of Education. The school buildings with employee infections include early education centers which are independent, community-based organizations that partner with the city's education department to provide a free full-day, high quality pre-K, a city official previously told CNN.

"While we continue to navigate the realities of a pandemic, there will be positive cases — we are putting people's health above everything else by quickly identifying and isolating positive cases to prevent further transmission," DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said.

"Beginning in October, all schools will have mandatory monthly random testing to continue to keep transmission low and our communities safe."

Everyone entering NYC schools will have to complete screening, buildings have had their ventilation systems upgraded and they've been reconfigured to allow more social distancing, the city's Department of Education said. There are also protocols for closing classrooms or more areas should anyone test positive for coronavirus.

Despite those assurances, many teachers and school staff have been less than confident in the plan laid out by the mayor and education officials, which was twice delayed at the last-minute.

On Sunday, New York City's principals and school administrators union declared a unanimous vote of no confidence in Mayor Bill de Blasio and the schools chancellor and called for the state education department to intervene.

Parents, too, have expressed their concerns to CNN.

"I am not 100% convinced that the schools are completely, adequately sanitized and ready for children," said Vanessa Nisperos, whose twin 8-year-old sons attend Public School 139 in Brooklyn.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the state would provide 200 rapid-testing machines to areas where clusters of the virus have been identified and urged schools to request one if needed.

"We are going to be getting daily testing numbers, so we'll be able to tell on a day-to-day basis what is actually happening with the test in NYC schools both with the teachers and the pupils," he said. "We'll act prudently based on the numbers, but I get the concern of the principals' union and we will be watching the numbers very closely."

Cuomo said the state would take action if it was needed.

"What we're seeing now with this Brooklyn cluster, we have to get to the bottom of that. But the data is key and we'll act on the data."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 724214

Reported Deaths: 13363
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion989071736
Lake53172962
Allen40223675
Hamilton35354408
St. Joseph35270550
Elkhart28228437
Tippecanoe22297217
Vanderburgh22231396
Porter18560304
Johnson17832376
Hendricks17098313
Clark12897191
Madison12519339
Vigo12379244
Monroe11811168
LaPorte11691210
Delaware10571185
Howard9823215
Kosciusko9347117
Hancock8204139
Bartholomew8036155
Warrick7754155
Floyd7630176
Wayne7002198
Grant6986174
Boone6652101
Morgan6529139
Dubois6139117
Marshall5954111
Dearborn577177
Cass5769105
Henry5671102
Noble555783
Jackson499672
Shelby488196
Lawrence4470120
Gibson433791
Harrison432972
Clinton426353
DeKalb423284
Montgomery423088
Whitley392739
Huntington386380
Steuben381057
Miami379165
Knox370990
Jasper361347
Putnam357760
Wabash352478
Adams340354
Ripley338370
Jefferson328481
White312254
Daviess294399
Wells290281
Decatur282992
Fayette278362
Greene276085
Posey270733
Scott264453
LaGrange263870
Clay258945
Randolph239581
Washington239131
Spencer230431
Jennings228848
Starke213252
Fountain211846
Sullivan210442
Owen195856
Fulton194240
Jay190429
Carroll187820
Perry182537
Orange181854
Rush172625
Vermillion167643
Franklin167235
Tipton161945
Parke145416
Blackford134332
Pike132634
Pulaski115945
Newton106734
Brown101441
Crawford99014
Benton98114
Martin87415
Warren80515
Switzerland7808
Union70610
Ohio56211
Unassigned0413

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1077284

Reported Deaths: 19344
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1251861392
Cuyahoga1110942107
Hamilton796611200
Montgomery511561012
Summit46842933
Lucas41780782
Butler38228580
Stark32099907
Lorain24828480
Warren24214297
Mahoning21403586
Lake20518368
Clermont19704238
Delaware18463131
Licking16373210
Fairfield16083199
Trumbull15966466
Medina15192262
Greene14991244
Clark13927297
Wood13020188
Portage12772201
Allen11564231
Richland11277198
Miami10652215
Muskingum8783132
Wayne8738210
Columbiana8735229
Pickaway8527121
Marion8494135
Tuscarawas8459243
Erie7831154
Hancock6880126
Ross6821152
Ashtabula6756169
Geauga6659148
Scioto6385101
Belmont5828167
Union569347
Lawrence5536102
Jefferson5481151
Huron5409119
Darke5333122
Sandusky5316120
Seneca5248121
Athens518058
Washington5137109
Auglaize487084
Mercer479085
Shelby466893
Knox4472110
Madison434761
Putnam4260100
Ashland420989
Fulton419869
Defiance416597
Crawford3954106
Brown391857
Logan380676
Preble378298
Clinton369861
Ottawa365779
Highland352761
Williams337075
Champaign329258
Guernsey314453
Jackson311651
Perry294250
Morrow283639
Fayette280649
Hardin269864
Henry267766
Coshocton263858
Holmes2587101
Van Wert242463
Pike237233
Adams235852
Gallia235148
Wyandot230654
Hocking214662
Carroll190947
Paulding171140
Meigs144339
Noble133437
Monroe130642
Morgan108223
Harrison107337
Vinton82015
Unassigned02
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Van Wert
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Shower and thunderstorm chances increase Thursday afternoon.
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