With new restrictions taking effect across the tri-state area and the threat of New York City schools shutting down, the anxiety is familiar to millions of people who once again find themselves concerned about their children and their livelihoods.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told parents Friday to be prepared for the city's school system to end all in-person learning instruction as soon as Monday if the spread of the virus continues to accelerate. After back-to-back drops in positivity, schools will stay open Monday, the mayor said Sunday morning.
The city's daily indicators came back Saturday and Sunday with positivity rates not only below the 3 percent closing threshold, but lower than numbers reported Friday that prompted the warnings of a possible shutdown.
De Blasio has said he would close school buildings if 3 percent of coronavirus tests conducted in the city over a seven-day period came back positive. Saturday's rate dipped slightly to 2.69 percent (first reported by officials as 2.47 but increased as additional test results were returned) and by Sunday morning, started at 2.57 percent. The city reported a 2.8 percent positivity rate on Friday, the closest average rate yet to 3 percent.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has intervened on closure matters in the past, opted not to in the case of New York City schools. He reiterated Friday that he had left local school decisions up to local school districts, provided any given district's thresholds fall within the parameters set by the state. By Saturday, he suggested the mayor and school leaders look at adding additional factors to the shutdown threshold for schools.
“Since the 3% was set we have become more sophisticated and have more capacity than we did at that time,” he said on a Saturday morning conference call.
Cuomo argued that school-specific testing of students and staffers was introducing new data into the equation and should be taken into account. The New York governor said he spoke by phone with Mayor de Blasio to suggest such an adjustment.
“Add to your calculus a positivity rate in the school, because if the school is not spreading the virus, or if the school has a much lower positivity rate than the surrounding area, then the school is not part of the problem -- and you could argue keeping the children in the school is part of the solution," he added.
De Blasio's 3 percent is well below the 9 percent mark Cuomo set for closure and the 5 percent mark he set for the initial reopening a few months ago. That said, he'd prefer to have them open for now, and urged the mayor and the teachers union to consider a higher threshold in the future.
“I want to urge parents to have a plan ready that they can put into effect as early as Monday,” de Blasio said during his weekly talk on WNYC radio. “Parents should have a plan for the rest of the month of November.”
Calls to keep schools open in the city were echoed by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who on Friday released a statement in support of avoiding a citywide school shutdown.
“Our City is in a dangerous position right now with rising COVID rates. But we owe it to students and families – and all New Yorkers who care about the future of this city – to try everything we can to keep schools open to provide in-person services while also prioritizing safety and equity. This is especially important for families who rely on our government to be the great equalizer," Johnson's statement read, in part.
Six northeast governors are having an "emergency summit" on COVID-19 this weekend as multiple states report record high virus cases and additional restrictions feel all but certain in an effort to curb the spread throughout the region.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania, two of the six summit states, reported new record case totals on Saturday, higher than any single-day numbers counted back at the pandemic's first peak in the spring.
The Garden State broke its spring record on Saturday when Gov. Phil Murphy announced 4,395 new cases of COVID-19. The state broke that new record again just one day later; 4,540 cases were reported on Sunday.
Currently, the number of daily tests conducted in New Jersey is three times the volume performed back in the spring. The state data also shows 2,000 people were hospitalized in the state on Friday -- less than a third of the state's record at the end of April.
"A second wave of #COVID19 is now here," Murphy tweeted Sunday, who reiterated his calls for caution over the upcoming holiday season.
New COVID restrictions went into effect in New Jersey, some of them mirroring limits that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced would be imposed in New York a day later, as the Garden State's governor seeks to beat back what he has described as a "devastating" recent increase in viral numbers.
Bar seating is banned completely (congregating upright within bars is already probibited), while bars and restaurants must halt indoor service from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. That includes casinos, though gaming can continue 24/7. Restaurants can place tables closer together than 6 feet, but only if they're separated by barriers. Outdoor dining and takeout aren't affected.
The governor didn't establish new limitations on indoor dining outside the curfew hours; he also has left the current 25 percent capacity caps in place. Most of the spread has been linked to social gatherings, from weddings to parties to small groups in private homes, as well as indoor sports at the K-12 level.
In New Jersey's largest city of Newark, which has seen its positivity rate soar beyond double the increasing statewide number, Mayor Ras Baraka has already taken steps beyond what Murphy has done statewide as it relates to mandatory curfew, sports, senior housing, religious services and non-essential businesses.
After Newark's more intense restrictions, another city in the Garden State has gone beyond the state's new measures as well. East Orange is ordering all non-essential businesses to close by 8 p.m. as part of what the mayor is calling a "Tough Love" shutdown.
Murphy said Thursday he would sign an executive order giving municipalities and counties the option to regulate operating hours of nonessential businesses after 8 p.m., as Newark has done, but any local actions must comply with state rules.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the group of governors would discuss potential coordination of restrictions on restaurants and bars, as well as interstate travel and quarantine rules. Several states have passed new restrictions this week, including New York's 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants and a ban on gatherings over 10 people in private residences.
“We believe we’re going to have to be taking additional steps,” Cuomo said, though he said he doesn’t expect any major changes to existing rules over the weekend.
Cuomo said he expects infection rates will keep increasing in New York and nationwide as the holiday season begins.
“You cannot take this rate of increase and survive pending the arrival of a vaccine,” Cuomo said.
The spike in cases has prompted one New York city to implement new restrictions.
In Mount Vernon, a stay at home advisory is going into effect Monday. The city has recently seen a double-digit increase in daily cases, with 84 new cases reported this month. Residents are being asked to stay home except for essential travel.
New York City and the rest of the state have struggled to contain rising rates of coronavirus infections in recent weeks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said there were more than 1,800 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state on Saturday and 30 deaths. There have been an average of about 3,900 new COVID-19 infections in the state over the last seven days.
In a speech at Riverside Church in Manhattan, Cuomo threatened legal action if a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available and is distributed in an inequitable manner while Republican President Donald Trump is in office.
“The president talks about CVS and Walgreens and national chains,” Cuomo said, repeating a criticism he has made previously. “Sure, but they are mainly located in rich communities, not in poor communities. My friends, we can’t compound the racial injustice that COVID already created.”