New York City

Adams Weighs Booster Mandate for NYC Workers as Teachers Make Remote Learning Bid

The new mayor says the city is prepared to implement a booster shot requirement for new York City's municipal workforce

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Students in the nation's largest school district are preparing to return to school on Monday after a winter break when COVID cases saw an explosion throughout the country, especially in New York City.

Their return comes with a new set of protocols and testing measures designed to meet the adapting challenges brought on by a new variant, all in hopes of keeping students in the classroom and hold off on a return to remote learning.

Two million at-home test kits provided by the state will be used to increase testing in New York City schools following the break, officials announced last week. Students whose classmates test positive can keep coming to school as long as their at-home tests are negative and they don’t have symptoms.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City educators, questioned whether the new testing initiatives will be available in every school by the time schools reopen Monday.

“We are moving closer to a safe reopening of school next week. But we are not there yet,“ he said.

In a letter sent to teachers on Sunday, Mulgrew said the union advised Adams to temporarily revert to remote schooling until the schools could be ready to handle the ongoing crisis. The new mayor, he said, reiterated his desire to keep schools open.

Some teachers in the city, however, hope to see a temporary pause on in-person instruction amid a record surge in positive cases. After crushing previous single-day records, New York City has reported over 40,000 cases each of the past three days, according to state data.

The new year ushered in more record infections for New York, while nearby New Jersey saw its hospital admissions jump past the peak of last winter. NBC New York's Anjali Hemphill reports.

A group within the teachers union, UFT Solidarity, has filed a temporary restraining order to stop the public schools from reopening on Monday and to keep instruction remote for the first two weeks back from break.

The group filed the order in hopes of stopping in-person classes from resuming until a universal COVID testing protocol is in place. A union organizer says the aging infrastructure and inadequate H-VAC systems in public schools are not enough to keep staff and students safe from the virus.

"We're just greatly alarmed in terms of like what is happening in schools, and the fact that the mayor just simply thinks that just by giving kids a rapid test to take home is going to be a surefire way to protect us from getting seriously ill when schools are not being adequately cleaned, when we don't have adequate ventilation," said Lydia Howrilka, a history teacher in Brooklyn and member of union group.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, has called the filing meritless and insists schools will be open again come Monday.

"All the data tells us that children are safer in schools, and it is better for their long term wellbeing. New York has gone above and beyond to make our schools safe with our multi-layered approach - including testing, vaccines and masks - and we look forward to welcoming back every student and staff member in person on Monday," a DOE statement said.

Eric Adams, who was sworn-in as mayor days before millions of students are expected to walk back into classrooms, has repeatedly vocalized his desire to keep kids in school.

"We lost almost two years of education... we can't do it again," Adams said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

While the new mayor hopes schools can remain open amid the overwhelming surge in cases and rising number of pediatric hospitalizations, he said the city is considering additional protection measures.

When asked Sunday about additional mandates for city workers, particularly a requirement for teachers, police officers and firefighters to get boosted, Adams said "that's our next move and decision."

"We're going to examine the numbers. If we feel we need to get to the place of making it mandatory, we're going to do that," he said.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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