2-case COVID shut down rule will change, mayor says; teachers union pushes back

Coronavirus

HAMILTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — New York City has more than 1,800 public schools, and during the pandemic, hundreds of them have had to close temporarily any time two or more COVID-19 cases were reported within the student population, even though some schools have hundreds of students attending classes in person.

That policy is about to change, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“We will be replacing the two-case rule,” the mayor announced during his daily briefing on Monday morning.

However, neither he, nor the new schools chancellor, Meisha Ross Porter, would say how many students could report a positive test before a school would have to shut down.

Parents, however, were quick to say that there’s a need for a change.

Tim Kali, the parent of a fourth grader and a third grader at Adam Clayton Powell Elementary School, said anything that promotes more in-person learning is helpful to his two daughters.

“They need to be in school with the people who can be hands on with them more,” Kali said. “They need to keep the schools open.”

Jennifer Martinez, who’s the parent of fourth- and third-grade boys, said that the threat of frequent closure takes a toll on her sons — and on her.

“It is a little stressful,” she said. “I mean I haven’t been able to go back to work in over a year, basically since March of 2020, just because. I can’t really plan a schedule around the school schedule.”

The two-case rule change is still only a proposal, officially, as was pointed out by the president of the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing the city’s 75,000 public school teachers.

In a statement, Michael Mulgrew, the UFT president, said, “A proclamation is not a plan. The city can’t change the two-case rule without Albany’s approval. 

“Thanks to the effectiveness and availability of vaccines, the percentage of adults testing positive for COVID has declined. But students now account for two-thirds of the new infections. We have been talking to our medical experts, and we will continue to discuss these issues with the city. Any change to the two-case rule has to take the safety of children and their families into account, not the mayor’s need for a Monday morning announcement.”

Elementary school parents who spoke with PIX11 News said that they understood why the teachers’ union wants to take a more cautious approach.

“It’s kudos for them, too,” said, Kali,  “because they want to keep the kids safe.”

But Martinez said they still need a change, ideally from two cases to a higher number.

“Anywhere from seven to 10, I would feel comfortable with,” she said.

Meanwhile, as the number of allowed cases in schools rises, another sign of change in the coronavirus situation is making headlines.

As of Monday, an 11:00 p.m. curfew placed on casinos, movie theaters, gyms, bowling alleys and billiard halls was lifted by the State of New York.

However, the curfew still applies to New York’s biggest nightlife businesses — restaurants and bars. It’s a situation that is not pleasing restaurant and bar owners.

Michael Dorf owns City Winery, a performance, food and bar venue on the Hudson River in Tribeca. He said the state regulations mean well, but could be really tough for many restaurants and bars like his.

“[They’re] trying to keep us safe,” Dorf said about state regulators, “but [they] don’t understand the impact of tiny little decisions like that.” 

He added that, despite the curfew, he’s grateful that a reopening for venues like his is taking place.

“It’s going to impact financially for a bit,” he said.  “We just have to move around it.”

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