What to Know
- As of Tuesday, 693 public and private schools statewide reported at least one infection since classes began to resume in early September
- No information was available on whether the sick students had any chance to infect other school community members or whether they had even returned to in-person learning before they tested positive
- The update comes the same day the last wave of NYC students returned to physical classrooms for the first time since March, a moment Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed as "amazing" even as the city battles clusters that have stoked new tensions with the unions
Schools across New York have reported that at least 1,200 students, teachers and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the academic year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, though that number is almost certain to be an undercount.
As of Tuesday, 693 public and private schools across the state had reported at least one infection since classes began to resume in early September. Schools reported that over 700 students and 400 school staff had tested positive for the virus.
No information was available on whether the sick students had any opportunity to infect other members of their school community, or whether they had even returned to in-person learning before they tested positive.
State officials noted that the count, made public by the state through its online COVID-19 Report Card for schools, doesn't capture the full extent of infections among either schoolchildren or teachers.
A separate, more comprehensive data collection system operated by state health officials that pulls test results straight from laboratories documented just under 2,300 infections among children aged 5 to 17 across the state between Sept. 1 and Tuesday, according to data released to The Associated Press.
That's more than triple the number of infections among school-aged children that schools have reported, a discrepancy due partly to the data covering a longer time period. New York City's schools, for example, didn't reopen, even for remote learning, until the middle of the month and there was no standard system for parents there to report illnesses to school officials until the past few days, when people began returning to in-person learning.
The state is making both sets of numbers available to the public.
“It will not always match up perfectly, because sometimes when the school district reports and when the lab reports there might be a slight lag, but the goal here really is to give parents and New Yorkers full transparency," said Gareth Rhodes, an aide to Cuomo, last week.
“If the school district isn’t reporting all the cases they should, you’ll at least have it from the labs as well. And every day we work to try to collect more and better data, and as we do that we will continue adding it to this dashboard.”
The update from Cuomo Thursday came the same day the last wave of New York City public students slated for blending learning returned to physical classrooms for the first time since March, a moment Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed as "amazing" even as the city battles clusters that have stoked new tensions with the unions.
"We did it New York City. And everyone should be proud of this moment. This is an example of what makes New York City great," de Blasio said, commending the 1,600 public schools that reopened in the morning.
The mayor and schools chancellor continue to assure union leaders, the public and educators that they are aggressively moving to ensure safety for all via testing, outreach, contact tracing and other means and won't hesitate to shutter public schools again if the situation warrants. To help get ahead of any possible cases, schools are preemptively asking parents to sign consent forms to allow their children to get a free monthly randomized COVID test in school.
"This is going to allow us to keep a constant eye on what's happening in each school and make sure we can keep everyone safe," the mayor said.
But the president of the teachers union isn't quite as optimistic, saying he's concerned about schools in ZIP codes where there have been recent upticks.
"So now that the schools are open, we move into the phase of monitoring everything. Total transparency," United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said. "If those numbers don't get down, that's where it's going to end up in a bit of a fight."
If a school does report a single case in a classroom, that classroom will immediately move remote for two weeks as contact tracers assess exposure risk. If two cases in separate classes are confirmed and tracers don't immediately find a clear link, the entire school could move remote for at least two weeks, maybe longer.
PS721Q in Elmhurst, Queens, became the city's first high school to shut down for 14 days, even before it officially welcomed students back to class in person. A letter from the principal Wednesday night said two or more members of the school community had tested positive and further investigation indicated the need for a two-week in-person hiatus. The contact tracing effort is ongoing.
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
New York has about 4,400 public schools and 351 charter schools serving 2.6 million students. Many families are continuing virtual-only learning for their children, with more than 50 percent of high schoolers in the city staying remote.
New York State School Boards Association spokesman David Albert said districts are following infection protocols to keep the spread as low as possible.
“Schools are doing the things they have to do to be able to function so they can provide in-person learning while risk of contagion is as low as it can be,” he said.
Separately, the state’s 64 colleges and universities have reported 1,739 cases among students and employees. A handful have reported clusters of hundreds of students: SUNY Oneonta switched to 100 percent remote learning for this fall semester after being inundated with nearly 400 COVID-19 cases.