Amid omicron wave, thousands more NYC students, staff positive for COVID

Coronavirus

UPPER WEST SIDE, Manhattan — New York City schools on Wednesday continued to see a spike in COVID-19 cases among students and staff as PCR test results from holiday break were returned from labs.

Between Christmas and Tuesday, more than 38,000 cases were reported, including nearly 24,000 students and over 14,000 staff members, according to Department of Education data.

On Tuesday alone, roughly 12,700 new cases — about 8,700 students and 4,000 staff — were reported across New York City schools.

The DOE chalked up the staggering number to a lag in reporting by principals over winter break and the addition of rapid at-home COVID tests as part of the new test-to-stay policy.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi echoed this sentiment.

“We are doing more testing per capita than any other jurisdiction in the United States and we are going to keep expanding it,” he said.

So far, the parents of about 340,000 of the city’s 938,000 public school students have signed consent forms to allow their child to be tested for COVID-19. City leaders and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew would like to see that figure increase.

“We definitely need parents to give us consent for testing,” he said. “That PCR testing system is really what’s going to keep us safe.”

Even with a tsunami of sick calls, which has led to staffing shortages, Chokshi said science shows the benefits of learning in person outweigh the temptation to pivot to all-remote learning.

“It hinges on the notion that we have to put kids in the safest environment for them and the data indicates schools are safer environments,” he said.

And despite the spike in cases, student attendance on Tuesday grew to 71% from 67% on Monday.

While the teachers union works with the city to keep schools open, Mulgrew said a high absentee rate is the only thing that would shut down school buildings.

“Just a massive attendance drop in both students and teachers and you realize that it’s the virus, just so prevalent at this moment in time, across the entire city that it just needs to at that point, it has to shut down,” he said of what it would take to close schools on a citywide level.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, meanwhile, outlined several ways she plans to address a statewide teacher shortage, including waiving the retiree income cap, during her State of the State address on Wednesday.

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