NEW YORK — New York City will drastically increase its COVID-19 testing program at public schools when students return from winter break on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor-elect Eric Adams announced on Tuesday.
With COVID cases skyrocketing across the city and the number of pediatric hospitalizations on the rise, parents and teachers have expressed concerns about sending kids back to school.
De Blasio said he’s been working with Hochul and Adams on developing a larger PCR testing program as well as a new rapid test-to-return policy for when a positive case is identified in a classroom.
Hochul on Monday announced the state would send 1 million COVID-19 rapid test kits (2 million tests total) to the city to be distributed to schools by the end of the week.
De Blasio on Tuesday said schools will use those kits for when a positive COVID case is identified in a classroom.
When there’s a positive case in a class, de Blasio said every child in that class will be sent home with an at-home rapid test kit, which includes two tests. If a child tests positive, they stay home. If they test negative and are asymptomatic, they can return. The students will test twice over seven days.
“We all understand parents’ hesitation, but school benefits children in so many ways,” de Blasio said of sending children back to class amid a spike in cases. “Schools have been safe and schools are where kids need to be.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said the test-to-return program will be recommended but not required.
The city Department of Education’s “COVID Situation Room,” which investigates outbreaks and issues guidance on classroom and school closures, will monitor incidents of mass spread — not individual cases — and support the test-to-return program’s rollout.
The DOE will also double in-school PCR tests — including vaccinated and unvaccinated students as well as teachers and staff — for a greater sample size. To achieve this, however, de Blasio said more parents need to sign the DOE’s COVID testing release form.
To make access to testing outside of school even easier, the mayor said 40 additional city-run sites would open, bringing the citywide total to over 160.
De Blasio, Hochul and Adams also called on parents to get their eligible children vaccinated, if they haven’t done so already.
“Parents, we need you,” de Blasio said.
Mayor-elect Adams vowed that his administration, which takes over in the new year, will follow through with the new school testing initiatives and praised de Blasio for his cooperation during what has been a turbulent transition phase amid a new wave of COVID cases.
“We are unified against this formidable threat,” Adams said.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers union, said while educators are ready to return to work, he’s not convinced the city can live up to its promises.
“The real issue is whether the city can do its job — ensuring that new testing initiatives are available in every school and an improved Situation Room is actually in place by next week,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We are moving closer to a safe reopening of school next week. But we are not there yet.”
In a DOE letter outlining the city’s new safety measures and protocols to parents, obtained by PIX11 News, outgoing Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter and incoming Schools Chancellor David Banks “strongly encouraged” that all students get tested before they return to school on Monday, regardless of vaccination status.