What to Know
- As New York City high school students returned to class on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said families who opted out of in-person learning will have an opportunity to change their minds this week
- Cluster zones in the five boroughs were lifted Monday and indoor fitness classes resumed. Residential gathering limits across the state increased from 10 people in any space to 25 people outdoors
- On Wednesday morning, the mayor and schools chancellor announced that the City will be putting education money from the COVID-19 stimulus fund to bring free 3-K to all New York City districts by September -- allowing for about 16,500 more children across all 32 NYC districts to start school.
New York City announced Wednesday the expansion of the 3-K program to all school districts -- the same day that a new window for choosing in-person learning for all public school students kicked off.
New York City families who opted out of in-person learning last year while coronavirus cases skyrocketed now have another opportunity to bring students back to class, but there are still mixed feelings about whether parents and teachers think it's safe.
The new window for choosing physical classroom learning opens Wednesday and would remain open through April 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Only preschoolers, elementary school students and District 75 special education kids can opt-in for now, while administrators work to coordinate a safe return down the road for higher grade levels.
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"We still have more work to do for middle and high school. We're still not sure about those timelines. But as I said, the opt-in will include middle and high school students so we know what their intentions are, and then we'll be able to provide more information as we get more guidance," the mayor said in his announcement on Monday.
The chance to return to classrooms comes after the federal government last week adjusted its school guidance to say that students can safely sit 3 feet apart in the classroom if they wear masks. The CDC previously called for 6 feet of distance. Students should still be kept the usual 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the CDC said.
In a letter to the community, one elementary school principal warned that a possible influx of students and new federal guidelines may result in changes to classrooms, cohorts and teachers.
"As principals were not consulted or informed ahead of the announcement so we are awaiting further details while planning at the same time," Principal Medea McEvoy of East Side Elementary School wrote.
NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said Monday that the system has been doing an analysis on what the new three-foot rule would look like in city classroom and said she expects to provide more details.
"We are very confident that we are prepared to accept more students in classes, based on a three-foot rule, even at this moment with the six-foot requirement based on the number of students who actually have returned to school," Porter said.
On Wednesday morning, the mayor and schools chancellor announced that the City will be putting education money from the COVID-19 stimulus fund to bring free 3-K to all New York City districts by September -- allowing for about 16,500 more children across all 32 NYC districts to start school. (For more information on how to apply, click here.)
De Blasio and other City officials said that the expansion of 3-K will help bridge the education gap, bring equality into education and substantially help working families.
"If you get early childhood education right, everything else works," the mayor said, adding: "What I felt from the beginning is that the investments in early childhood education have a profound impact on families...but they are also where we get the biggest impact for the dollars we spend on education."
Meanwhile, NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter called the expansion of 3-K it a "big deal" adding that the news "couldn't come at a better time as New York City turns the corner on this virus."
This is not the only major education news to come from the city this week. On Monday, more than 55,000 high school students (about a fifth of those enrolled) had just returned to class for the first time in months. Nonetheless, the majority of students are still learning from home, which they have been doing for more than a year.
About 70% of New York City's more than 1 million public school students have elected to learn online, the Department of Education said. While it's unclear how many will sign up to return to physical classrooms for the last three months of the school year, the mayor suggested “a lot of parents have been clamoring for that opportunity."
However, that desire appears to be greatly divided by race and region, according to a new national survey conducted by the Biden administration.
Among fourth-graders surveyed, almost half of white students were learning fully in-person, with just over a quarter learning online. Among Black and Hispanic students, by contrast, nearly 60% were learning entirely remotely. The difference was even wider among students of Asian descent, with 68% remote and just 15% attending fully in-person.
Similar disparities have been uncovered in New York City since the beginning of the pandemic, raising alarms among education advocates who fear the pandemic has worsened racial inequities in education. The New York Times reported in December last year that 12,000 more white students returned to class over Black students, despite there being more Black students overall.
The Biden administration has vowed to confront racial gaps in education and is urging schools to prioritize the issue as they spend more than $120 billion in recently approved relief aid.
More federal help is expected to come in the form of vaccines, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In his announcement to expand vaccine eligibility, he said that vaccine supplies will increase in future weeks, making the state one step closer to allowing all 15 million New Yorkers over the age of 16 to get a shot.
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“We will have enough vaccine to vaccinate people,” Cuomo said. "We have to make sure we have the capacity and willingness to take the vaccine.”
Local and county officials for weeks have urged the Cuomo administration to ease restrictions on eligibility and who can administer vaccines to help speed up vaccinations. The governor has said low vaccine supplies has held up vaccine distribution early on in New York's rollout, but he has eased eligibility restrictions in recent weeks.
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
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Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
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State health officials hope that vaccination will lower rates of infection in New York, which has among the highest rates per-capita in the nation. The number of COVID-19 deaths has dropped in recent weeks, though hospitalizations have remained flat at around 4,500 patients over the past seven days.
The governor said he wants to address the lower level of vaccination among minority communities, which can face barriers to healthcare.
“We still have not reached fairness and equity in the number of vaccines,” Cuomo said, later adding: “That discrepancy has to be remedied.”
Black New Yorkers represent 17.3% of New York’s population over the age of 15, while Hispanic or Latinos represent 18%. But 9.9% of people with at least one dose identified as Black, while 11.9% identified as Hispanic or Latino.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Communities across the state report racial disparities in vaccination: Just 0.7% of people with at least one dose identify as Black in New York's North Country, even though Black New Yorkers represent 4.7% of the region's population.
In Long Island, 5.7% of people with at least one dose identify as Black and 8.7% identify as Hispanic or Latino. But Long Island's population over age 15 is 10.7% Black and 16.9% Hispanic or Latino.
Knowing the critical role that houses of worship play in the community, New York City announced a series of pop-up vaccination locations at churches across the Big Apple this week -- part of its grassroots efforts to reach as many New Yorkers as possible.
The battle for vaccine equity is on in New Jersey as well, as many in minority communities have bemoaned the frustrating process that is making a vaccine appointment. That's part of the reason a vaccination tent in a Newark IHOP parking lot sprung up, thanks to a multi-million dollar effort by the Rockefeller Foundations and the United Way.
There also may be more walk-up, no-appointment-needed clinics soon opening up throughout New Jersey's largest city. Only those eligible would be able to get the vaccine there, according to state rules.
Cuomo also announced the launch of the "Roll Up Your Sleeve" Campaign to promote houses of worship of all faiths across the state to sign up as vaccination sites for their communities. Starting in April, all houses of worship can begin to serve as points of distribution for the COVID vaccine, significantly increasing the number of doses the state can administer.
New York State has administered 8 million vaccine doses, while New York City, specifically has administered 3,455,877 doses to date.
Meanwhile, Cuomo has lifted restrictions placed over a year ago in response to the pandemic despite warnings and concerns that they may be too much and too soon.
Additionally, on Wednesday, Cuomo announced the Citizen Public Health Training Program to allow citizens to prevent and address future public health issues, including COVID-19. Cornell University will offer the free state-of-the-art online program. The university developed the 8-session, 16-hour curriculum, which includes interactive sessions with Cornell and SUNY professors and national experts.
Dr. Lorin Warnick, from Cornell University, called the program "innovative."
"We at Cornell are very honored to be a part of this effort," Warnick said. "The course will be offered to any New Yorker. It will allow citizens of our state to learn from Cornell educators and to become public health leaders for their families and communities."
Those who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion from Cornell and the state's Department of Health.
"In the event of another health care emergency, this would be a body of people who could volunteer to help in their community," Cuomo said, adding that he believes the program will attract many people.
Enrollment for the program opens Wednesday, with classes started April 30. Those interested, can register online at ny.gov/citizenpublichealth.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, citing new CDC guidelines, the Department of Health released a revised guidance for local health departments on K-12, in-class operations, including if masking and frequent hand-washing can be maintained, then in-person learning social distancing can be reduced to 3-feet. This applies to all elementary grade levels across all transmission risks and it applies to middle and high-school levels with low to moderate transmission risks. However, if the risk is high, 6-feet of social distancing will remain in place.
New Jersey is taking a slower approach as per-capita cases rise to a national high, with Gov. Phil Murphy saying more reopenings are unlikely in the short term. (New Jersey has the third-highest average of daily new cases in the country, but is by far the highest in terms of new cases per 100,000 residents.)
"My guess is we won't be opening up further capacities for some time now because of the case load," Murphy said in a CNN interview Monday morning -- even as he said it's the state's goal to get 85 percent of students back into schools for in-person learning by the end of this school year.
Murphy might not be planning on reopening more of the economy, but he is allowing for more visitations to long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Based on new federal guidance, the New Jersey Department of Health is allowing for in-person visits, regardless of vaccination status. There are caveats, however, including that spread must be low in the region where the facility is located.
"In all cases, everyone – residents and visitors – must properly wear face masks," Murphy said. "If you encounter difficulty with visitations, contact the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman: 877-582-6995 or http://nj.gov/ooie." Outdoor visits remain an option.
Yet even as New Jersey slows down, New York City is speeding up. The city, immediate neighbors to the Garden State, ranks second in the country in new virus cases per 100,000 residents. With the explosion of variants in the city, de Blasio shares concern with Murphy over Cuomo's reopening decisions, some of which weren't consulted with local governments.
More and more states are also announcing reopening measures, despite warnings from health officials who noted the rise in COVID-19 in places like Europe where the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant is rapidly spreading.
While vaccines are expected to work against the new variants, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged all Americans to remain "vigilant" because the U.S. is far from reaching herd immunity.
"We are at a critical point in this pandemic," Walensky said during a White House news briefing. "I'm worried that if we don't take the right actions now we will have another avoidable surge just as we are seeing in Europe right now."
New numbers show that 43.8% of Americans ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.