Experts Assess How NYC Should Protect Schools From COVID This Fall – .

Experts Assess How NYC Should Protect Schools From COVID This Fall – .

Yzabella Padagas, center right, wipes away tears as she recounts her father’s battle with COVID-19 and how mentally and emotionally draining it has been for his family, during a roundtable discussion on the COVID vaccine -19 at Lehman High School, Tuesday July 27, 2021. AP Photo by Mark Lennihan

One of the biggest questions worrying families, principals and teachers at New York City public schools is what the COVID-19 precautions in schools will look like this fall.

This school year promises to be very different from either of the last two. Blended learning is gone, and the city plans to welcome every child to their school on September 13. not yet informed families and educators about social distancing, school testing and quarantine policies.

State health officials said on Thursday that, unlike last year, they would not be offering any guidance for this fall. Frustrated by the delay and possible kick in the case from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, state education officials have advised districts to use federal guidelines to reopen schools. schools as the basis of their plans.

Chalkbeat spoke with three experts who have followed COVID-19 closely – Susan Hassig, assistant professor of epidemiology at Tulane University; Morgan Philbin, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University; and Cynthia Leifer, professor of immunology at Cornell University – on the best ways to protect children and educators in school based on what is known so far about the delta variant.

They agreed that getting the vaccine is the best possible protection against COVID-19, as people who have been vaccinated have been shown to be much less likely to be infected and rarely develop serious illness or die. The city has recorded an average of 127 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, posing a “high” risk of transmission in schools, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But with the Delta variant in the mix, vaccinated people who receive COVID-19 can still spread it – albeit potentially for a short period of time – which can be problematic for children 11 and under who are not yet. eligible for a draw. This means that schools should use layers of protection to prevent the spread of the virus, these experts said.

About 60% of the city’s teachers have been vaccinated, but that figure is likely higher as many teachers may have had amputations outside of New York City, officials said. Teachers will also need to be vaccinated before the start of the school year or be tested every week. As of this week, about 43% of New York City children aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose. City officials hope to boost those numbers with a vaccination campaign this month.

Experts said there was not yet strong evidence on how the delta variant affects unvaccinated children, but all three said infected children still had mild symptoms. Hospitals in several states have reported seeing more pediatric hospitalizations related to COVID. In late July, the CDC reported that children between the ages of 5 and 17 were just as likely to be infected as other age groups, but were among the least likely to be hospitalized or die.


Zhaequan Brown, 19, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Lehman High School on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.
Photo AP par Mark Lennihan

After vaccines, the most important protection is universal masking, according to experts, to which Mayor Bill de Blasio has already committed. Social distancing and good ventilation come next. The education department promises two air purifiers for every classroom and works to fix faulty ventilation systems.

But all of these protections – also recommended by the CDC – must be combined with quarantine and shutdown policies, these experts say. While infection rates remained very low in New York City schools last year, roughly 40% of children attended them in person by the end of the school year.

Social distancing

Last school year, schools were required to maintain a six-foot distance between students for most of the year. That was reduced in the spring to three feet for younger students after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed some of their guidelines.

This year, New York City schools can set up three feet apart in their buildings if possible, but that won’t be necessary, according to guidelines shared Thursday with administrators from the city’s principals’ union. This is in line with CDC recommendations which call for such distancing, but not at the expense of fully reopening buildings.

Hassig, Philbin and Leifer said distance is still an important factor in limiting the spread of the virus, but less essential than keeping masks on and increasing vaccination rates. If schools cannot separate students due to space constraints, Hassig suggested limiting gatherings in areas where masks come off, such as a cafeteria. She suggested, if possible, that the children take food and eat in the classrooms, or that the children eat every day in the cafeteria.

Hassig believes the cloth masks will provide sufficient protection, but they should be snug and worn over the nose at all times. Teachers and class assistants need to make sure students wear masks correctly, she said.

Leifer stressed that there is a careful balance between implementing all possible antivirus recommendations and keeping children out of school.

“We need the students to come back in person, and if they can’t be three or six feet apart, if we have these other protections in place, they’ll be reasonably safe,” Leifer said.


Classroom and building closures were the subject of much debate last year, when just two cases of the unrelated virus resulted in the closure of entire schools. The policy, which public health experts have called too conservative, has resulted in frequent two-week shutdowns that have disrupted the stability of children, caregivers and teachers. City officials later changed their policy to only close buildings when there are positive cases in four separate classrooms.

During summer programs, people vaccinated without symptoms did not have to self-quarantine if a classroom or building closed. Only 0.2% of tests at school came back positive over the summer. But on Friday, 247 classrooms were closed, with no building currently closed.

The three experts agreed that classrooms and buildings should close if there are positive cases because many children will not have been vaccinated, and although children are less likely to get sick, they could bring it back. in their homes to more vulnerable family members. Without such rules, the spread of the virus might “go unchecked,” especially because so many children cannot get vaccinated, Leifer said. But they also agreed that there is no “magic” policy that will perfectly limit the spread.

“If the rates are incredibly low in one neighborhood and incredibly high in another, coupled with vaccination rates, the risk is so different,” Philbin said. “Our goal is to catch everyone as early as possible so that they don’t transmit more, especially among an unvaccinated population. “

Philbin thinks the city should consider adapting building closure rules for schools based on their vaccination rates, coupled with the vaccination and infection rates of the surrounding neighborhood.


Last school year, authorities initially demanded monthly testing of 20% of students and staff, then brought it back to a weekly routine in December 2020 after schools were closed amid rising COVID cases .

For summer programs, 10% of students and staff at each site are tested every two weeks, with a larger portion tested when positive COVID cases appear. So far, only 69 of the more than 36,000 tests have come back positive, according to city data. But in areas like New York City where transmission is considered moderate or higher, the CDC recommends offering testing at least once a week to unvaccinated students and staff.

The three experts believe there should be some level of testing at school, as this will be key to detecting and isolating positive cases, including among asymptomatic people who can still spread the virus.

Hassig believes the city should start with weekly random testing of 20% of students and staff. This could be a huge logistical and financial burden given the size of New York City, but it will be key to “trying to keep control” over the spread of the virus, Hassig said.

She also believes that if a classroom closes due to a positive case, additional testing should be done on people in surrounding rooms, as those people “are more likely to mix.

“If you find a lot of 20% cases, that suggests there are probably more,” she said.


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