COVID-19

NYC High School Reopening Set; Cuomo IDs Next 10 Vaccine Hubs, CDC Advice Raises Questions

The CDC issued new guidance Monday for fully vaccinated people, including scenarios where it is OK to not mask-up indoors among non-household members; local officials were quickly flooded with questions

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What to Know

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said public high schools would resume in-person instruction on March 22 for the first time since November; high-risk school sports resume citywide in April
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced locations for 10 new state-run mass vaccine sites Monday, the same day the CDC dropped new social guidelines for fully vaccinated people. Some of those raise questions
  • The number of completed vaccinations continues to rise in the tri-state with more than 3 million across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut receiving their full doses of the vaccine

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York City's public high schools will reopen for in-person instruction on Monday, March 22, while high-risk sports return citywide in mid-April -- the latest signs of sustained progress as the vaccine rollout kicks into an ever-higher gear.

At the same time, the CDC announced new guidelines for fully vaccinated people on Monday, recommendations that prompted a series of questions for local officials later in the day. Most of those revolved around the new mask guidelines.

Masks will certainly be part and parcel of the looming reopening of in-person high school education and school sports in the city, along with social distancing and other core COVID precautions, de Blasio said. He said the city would emphasize moving sports outdoors to facilitate safety, and extended this season through August to give "kids who have missed out on sports a chance to catch up."

Sports participants will be required to wear masks, and no parents or spectators will be permitted. Students who are learning remotely will be eligible to play sports.

The developments come just a few days after de Blasio teased the long-awaited school reopening news during his weekly WNYC radio segment on Friday. De Blasio has repeatedly said high school grades bring more complications than younger ones when it comes to enforcing COVID requirements.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York City's public high schools will reopen for in-person instruction on Monday, March 22. NBC New York's Rana Novini reports.

High schoolers may also experience additional emotional impacts from the unprecedented, and at one point sudden, switch to fully remote learning. Mental health is expected to be a key programmatic focus upon their return. Up to 55,000 high school students (about a fifth of those enrolled) are expected to return to physical classrooms in the school system's 488 high schools in two weeks, including the new schools chancellor's son.

The rest of the 282,000 students in those grades will continue to learn remotely. About half the high schools will provide in-school instruction to all or most of their students five days a week, while the others will offer hybrid instruction, officials said. Teachers and staff will return March 18 in order to start preparing classrooms.

“Think about the kids who haven’t seen their friends for a year,” de Blasio said. “Think about the kids who have been suffering emotionally and are worried. Think about the children we’ve lost to suicide. There are so many reasons that we need to bring our kids back. There are so many reasons we need them to be back where loving, caring adults, trained professionals are there to support them.”

The opt-in window for in-person learning has long since closed. It didn't appear the city had immediate plans to establish another one, given the reopening news. De Blasio cited ongoing unknowns about COVID variants as well as the city's lower but still far too high core virus metrics as the reasons for that approach.

The mayor vowed again Monday to open all schools five days a week when the next school year starts in September, though he has said he expects many families will still choose online learning because of coronavirus fears.

"With a .57 positivity rate, our schools are the safest place to be. And we are ready to reopen schools for our high schoolers," said incoming NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter.

The city's health department reports weekly on known cases around three variants -- the U.K., Brazilian and South African strains. Initial findings are expected to be released later this week as far as the health department's scientific assessment of another new variant, known as B.1.526, that originated in Washington Heights late last year. Specifically, they've been looking at whether it is more contagious than other strains and whether it changes the nature of the illness caused by the virus. Those variables are key in determining whether a variant poses any additional potential public health threat and shape the concern.

After a year of disruption due to the pandemic, families are starting to prepare to return to a life that feels more normal. But even that shift back to 'normal’ life can cause mental health struggles for parents and children. Dr. Regine Muradian, a clinical psychologist, joined LX News to describe the three conversations parents should have with their children to make that transition less stressful.

De Blasio said the decision not to hold another opt-in window came at the advice of the health department. Once high schools do return in person this month, about half of them citywide will offer in-person learning five days a week to all or most students. Teachers and staff will head back a few days early to prep.

"There is nothing more essential to our recovery than bringing back our public schools. There are so many reasons why we need them to be back where loving adults, trained professionals are there to support them," de Blasio said. "Think about that child who right now is feeling a little hopeless and lonely -- what it's going to mean for them on Monday, March 22, when they walk back in the door of their high schools, see their teachers and have hope again."

De Blasio has also consistently said he expects all schools at full in-person strength in the fall and reiterated that on Monday. New schools chancellor Meisha Porter, who officially assumes the role March 15, agrees. Evidence shows COVID spread rates within schools, especially those that serve younger grades, are consistently lower than the ones in their respective surrounding communities. To date, the in-school positivity rate is 0.57 percent, Porter said Monday.

COVID-19 at New York City Public Schools

This map shows all known cases of COVID-19 at New York City public schools. It is updated Sunday through Friday at 5:30 PM.

     Building that has been closed
     One or more classrooms has been closed
     A member of the school community has tested positive but the school community was not exposed

Source: nyc.gov

All public New York City schools moved fully remote in mid-November when the city topped de Blasio's then-controversial 3 percent rolling positivity rate threshold. Most elementary and special education students returned to the class in person in early December, while tens of thousands of middle school students only got their renewed chance to learn in person late last month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not include vaccinating teachers in its latest guidelines for schools to consider as far as returning students to class. But vaccines have been a sticking point in reopening debates.

Restaurants outside of New York City can expand their indoor dining capacity to 75 percent on March 19 if the state legislature approves of Gov. Cuomo directive.

New York is one of the only states pushing for statewide vaccine data on teachers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would direct districts to report weekly how many staff members have been vaccinated. The more teachers who have been vaccinated, the better others will feel about returning to classrooms, he said.

The feeling is mutual across the river in New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy moved up vaccine eligibility for its educators over the weekend. The governor said the key to reopening schools safely is doing just that. Teachers initially had been slated to earn vaccine eligibility with a host of other groups on March 15. Murphy said Monday he moved up their date because President Joe Biden specifically told states to prioritize teacher and childcare worker vaccinations immediately.


Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here


New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

The number of completed vaccinations across the tri-state area topped a major 3 million-person milestone on Sunday, a significant feat for a region particularly devastated by the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic and incalculably wounded by economic and human losses that have persisted for a full year.

Of the three tri-states, New York gets the most weekly allocation and has completed the most total vaccination series to date -- more than 1.89 million of them. That's more than 9 percent of the state's population. More than 12 million people are currently eligible for vaccination in New York, though -- and many millions more are still waiting to find out when it'll be their turn to get a shot.

Cuomo held a briefing Monday at the Javits Center, the Manhattan convention center turned 2,500 emergency bed field hospital early in the pandemic. Now, it's a mass vaccination site staffed by members of the National Guard -- a testament to the breadth and depth of a COVID crisis that continues to haunt America daily.

"We made it through. It was a frightening year. It was a painful year -- death, suffering, anxiety, loss, but we made it through," Cuomo said. "We are now at the beginning of the end. Why? Because we have a vaccine that can stop the virus."

This past weekend, the Javits Center did more vaccinations (27,144) than any such site in the nation, the governor said. Statewide, more than 123,000 doses were administered in the last 24 hours, Cuomo added.

Another 10 new state-run mass vaccination sites are expected to launch in the coming weeks. See the image below for details on locations.

state run sites
state run sites 3

New Jersey has doubled-dosed more than 854,000 people, about 10 percent of its population. It took the state about 55 days to hit the first 1 million total doses, but just three weeks to move from that benchmark to the 2 million dose-milestone, Murphy said. It has done more than a half-million doses in the last seven days.

Judy Persichilli, the state's health commissioner, said a number of people have canceled existing vaccine appointments, citing their preference for one manufacturer over the others. While they are entitled to do that, those people will have to get back at the end of the line and wait their turn for a different shot.

She recalled the words of national infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and reminded New Jerseyans they're advised to get whichever vaccine is available when it is their turn -- and that all are highly effective against the virus.

For its part, Connecticut has fully vaccinated about 344,000 people. Nearly a quarter of that state's entire population has received at least one dose so far.

In New York City, about 16.5 percent of the population has gotten one dose so far, while 7.9 percent has had both, according to the state's latest data. More than 100,000 people in the city got vaccinated over the weekend alone, de Blasio said. The city remains on pace to hit his 5 million person vaccination goal come June.

The CDC released new social guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans on Monday; those include scenarios where the agency says there is no longer a need to wear masks. At this point in time, city health officials continue to say masks should be an ongoing precaution even for those who have been fully vaccinated.

Health officials in New Jersey also advocate continued mask-use and reminded people Monday to heed the travel quarantine advisory if applicable. Murphy said the state is constantly assessing its gathering limits, though, when asked about the latest CDC guidelines. More developments may come on that front soon.

Asked whether long-term care facility visitations will ramp up in light of the latest CDC recommendations, New Jersey health officials said they were still continuing to digest the guidance but said it generally does not apply to public or healthcare settings. Long-term care visitation will resume when the state's COVID rates fall lower and show the ability to sustain those lower rates for at least two weeks.

"It's not just from vaccination alone. We're nowhere near the vaccination coverage we'd like," state epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said. "That's why we need to continue the masking, social distancing, all those interventions on top of the vaccinations to keep us on track with this success of stemming COVID."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their first recommendations for fully vaccinated individuals on how they can begin to visit with others.

The vaccine rollout was hampered by supply early but has seen that limited ease substantially in just the last few weeks. They expect it to ease considerably more as Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine production ramps up and have expanded vaccine sites and hours of operation accordingly.

De Blasio plans to leverage the additional Johnson & Johnson doses to vaccinate the city's homebound community -- between 14,000 and 23,000 people. Assuming supply is sufficient, the mayor says the effort can be completed in seven weeks.

After a year of disruption due to the pandemic, families are starting to prepare to return to a life that feels more normal. But even that shift back to 'normal’ life can cause mental health struggles for parents and children. Dr. Regine Muradian, a clinical psychologist, joined LX News to describe the three conversations parents should have with their children to make that transition less stressful.

The addition of the single-dose shot to the portfolio has been a boon for the tri-state vaccination effort across the board, as well as the national one. New York is expected to administer more than 850,000 doses this week alone, Cuomo said.

The accelerating inoculation effort in tandem with sustained -- if not ongoing -- declines in viral numbers has enabled local governors to ramp up their reopening efforts as well.

Both New York and New Jersey have reopened large arenas and venues to the public in a limited fashion, and more reopening steps are on tap in the coming weeks as it relates to increasing gathering limits and starting to bring back the arts and culture scene.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont recently announced the state would remove capacity limits altogether for most places, including restaurants, as of March 19.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here

Source: ny.gov

Cuomo cited the loosening of restrictions in Connecticut when he said Sunday he would expand indoor dining capacity in New York restaurants outside the city to 75 percent, up from the longstanding 50 percent cap, on March 19 as well.

“Remember, you have a lot of staff at restaurants, there are a lot of jobs, there are a lot of suppliers, so we’ll go to 75%,” Cuomo said. “We also think that 75% is what the consumer is ready for.”

The governor did not indicate that the current 35% limit for restaurants in New York City would rise. The plan to increase restaurant capacity outside of the city will be canceled if coronavirus numbers start to go up again, Cuomo said.

The directive for New York restaurants will be included in the bill state legislators approved Friday to strip Cuomo of his pandemic-linked emergency powers, the governor said, adding he would sign that bill Sunday. The recently implemented 35 percent cap for New York City restaurants remains unchanged, he said.

Under the emergency powers deal, which comes as Cuomo faces dueling controversies -- a federal probe into his administration's handling of nursing homes during the pandemic and a state inquiry into sexual harassment claims against the governor -- state lawmakers must approve the restaurant change. They have five days to do that and send it forward or strike it down, Cuomo said.

The governor has repeatedly rejected calls for his resignation over the two separate investigations, saying New Yorkers should wait for the state attorney general's final report before casting judgment. Officials have said the sexual harassment inquiry will likely take about two months. The federal nursing home investigation remains in its very early stages, but here's what it might involve.

Copyright NBC New York
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