It's crucial that parents and teachers feel comfortable for schools in New York to open successfully this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday -- and they're not just going to send their children back when schools reopen because they're open.
The governor said Monday he would issue a decision on school reopenings this week. Local districts were required to submit their reopening plans to the state Friday, and initial decisions on the plans were expected from New York officials this week. Cuomo said schools should plan to get the green light to reopen, but stressed there needs to be a “full conversation” that answers parents' questions about reopening safely.
"Just because a district puts out a plan doesn't mean if we reopen the school, parents are going to come or teachers are going to come," Cuomo said Monday. "I'm talking to parents. It's not going to happen that way. They are not going to trust the school district. This is an issue of public health ... Parents are going to want to understand the information for themselves."
How are you going to test? How many tests will you conduct? Are you sure it's enough? Is it a representative sample? What will the turnaround be? Cuomo rattled off a number of questions he says he's personally heard from parents.
He urged the state's 700 school districts to start having those conversations with parents now. New York City has scheduled various information sessions for both parents and students over the coming weeks, though it has yet to submit school-specific plans for its 1,800 buildings, leaving parents in limbo until at least mid-August.
Cuomo said parents need to be in the loop on specifics now.
"They should be comfortable, because they're the ultimate decision-makers here," he said. "Just because I say the infection rate is low doesn't mean parents are going to send their children back to school. It's not enough ... they have to feel comfortable, which means they have to be part of the process, we have to have a dialogue."
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
Similarly, Cuomo said, “no one wants to force teachers against their will to work.”
Cuomo has established certain thresholds for reopening schools. First and foremost, a region must have a daily test positivity rate below 5 percent over a seven-day rolling period before he gives the OK. If that positivity rate hits 9 percent after he gives the OK, school districts in that region must shut down.
New York City has an even stricter threshold for reopening schools: That seven-day rolling positivity rate must be below 3 percent. It has stayed at 1 percent since June despite the phased regional reopenings, but COVID-19 is uncharted territory. It's not clear if it will stay there, nor which factors could potentially drive it dramatically up. Widespread protests over George Floyd's death, for example, didn't appear to have a statistically significant impact on the positivity rate at all.
New York has contained the virus recently even as it surges in other parts of the country. The state recorded three new deaths on Sunday, bringing the number of total confirmed COVID fatalities to 25,172. The actual toll is likely much higher. The number of hospitalizations dropped to 536, a new low since the pandemic hit, Cuomo said Monday.
"The progress has been even better than expected," the governor said.
And he wants to keep it that way.
"After two and a half months of reopening, the numbers have actually gone down, which nobody suggested. That is really to compliment New Yorkers," the governor said. "New Yorkers are doing better than anyone else, even expected. Cautious still, but why shouldn't we be celebrating? Because look around, that's why."
Officials in New York have recently stepped up enforcement on bars and restaurants flouting pandemic rules. On Sunday, the New York City Sheriff’s department said in a tweet it intercepted a party boat at a Manhattan pier for an “illegal party” with social distancing violations and arrested the owners and captain.
"We're seeing continued situations that are just not intelligent and local governments have to crack down on these, whether they're in New York City or Long Island or they're in upstate New York," said Cuomo. "How a charter boat could put together a crowd on deck and leave — it's just disrespectful, it's illegal. It not only violates public health it violates common decency."
Calls were made to the sheriff's department seeking more information and to the boat's owner for comment. Another 29 violations were issued to New York City bars Sunday night, Cuomo said, 19 of which had their liquor licenses suspended. Over the weekend, 106 total violations were issued.
"Follow the rules, because if you don't follow the rules, chances are someone is going to be there to watch and to check," Cuomo warned. "That's the way it should be. If you're not following the rules, if I were you, I would be worried."