NEW YORK — After a week full of rising COVID cases and new CDC mask recommendations as well as vaccine mandates and $100 incentives, it can be tough to keep everything straight.
President of Newark University Hospital Dr. Shereef Elnahal and New York City Councilman Mark Levine joined PIX on Politics host Dan Mannarino on Sunday to discuss the important COVID information folks in the tri-state area need to know.
As the mask debate heats up ahead of the next school year, Elnahal said the most important piece of the equation is to remember that children under 12 years old are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
“We are concerned about kids. We’re seeing increased hospitalizations in kids across the country, and so I think that’s where the CDC’s guidance on masking in schools comes from,” he said.
The CDC’s updated guidance on mask wearing this week included a recommendation for universal use of face coverings inside schools for all teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status.
Councilman Levine, who is the chair of the health committee, said New York City parents can expect this guidance to be followed in public schools this fall, as previously announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
However, the question of whether parents will be given an option to return to remote learning is still under discussion, Levine said.
The city Department of Education does not currently plan to offer remote learning this fall. Students are expected to return to classrooms five days a week.
However, that plan was announced before the resurgence of COVID cases linked to the delta variant.
Levine said it’s possible that the DOE could offer a limited in-person exemption for certain students or a broader opt-out option, but staffing and logistics in hybrid learning settings are extremely challenging.
“This is a discussion that we need to have immediately and we have to decide quickly; school starts in six weeks,” he said.
Additionally, the CDC recently reported the delta variant is more contagious than chickenpox. The revelation is making the fight against the virus “a lot harder,” Dr. Elnahal said.
Elnahal warned the country will likely see more hospitalizations and deaths.
“The other piece of data that was concerning is that a vaccinated person can have as much virus in their nose, mouth, and other avenues of spreading it as someone who is unvaccinated,” he said. “That was something that the CDC discovered that led them to rerecommend masking indoors even for vaccinated people.”
Elnahal also emphasized that getting the COVID vaccine still prevents severe illness, hospitalization and death in an overwhelming majority of cases. He encouraged everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they can.
As far as reinstating an indoor mask mandate citywide, Levine said he’s extremely frustrated that the mayor and city Health Department have not updated their guidance since May despite the new threat of the delta variant.
“We do need masking,” he said.
However, when asked about a full shutdown of businesses and schools, Levine said he believes New York City is past those kinds of extreme restrictions considering its vaccination rate.
“Thankfully, with 4 1/2 million people vaccinated in New York City, we are not at risk of the kind of horrors that we experienced in the spring of 2020. And I don’t think those kinds of shutdowns are on the table,” he said. “However, the question of screening people for public venues, like bars and nightclubs, and movie theaters, absolutely should be on the table and I think it needs to happen now to protect the public.”