De Blasio: 55 NYC Public School Staff Test Positive For COVID-19

Marla Diamond
September 14, 2020 - 6:34 pm

    NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that of the 16,982 New York City public school staff who have been tested for the coronavirus, 55 were positive for COVID-19.

    That's a positivity rate of 0.32%.

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    One school was closed and is reopening on Monday.

    "Some people will test positive, those 55 people out of 17,000 they tested positive, that rate I just told you, 0.32%, we could see something like that consistently," de Blasio said during his daily briefing Monday. "Some people will test positive and those folks will immediately get support. They'll be helped to get home to safely separate, the contact tracing will go into effect right away, and after two weeks those professionals will come back to work and they'll complete the entire school year. The same will happen with some students, some students will test positive at some point in the year, and they'll go home for two weeks, and then they'll come back and they'll complete the school year. We have to remember that for the very small percentage of people who test positive for the coronavirus, it is a very temporary reality."

    The mayor stressed priority testing for students and school staff is available at 20 NYC Health + Hospitals locations in the five boroughs. Results generally come back within 48 hours.

    The Department of Education is also setting up a COVID Response Situation Room, staffed to log and respond to any reports of coronavirus in schools.

     It will have a hotline for principals, staffers from the departments of education and health, and members of the Test & Trace Corps who will give advice and take action on positive cases.

    "A principal or school administrator can call, alert the Situation Room team to a situation in their school that will immediately activate contact tracing and all the appropriate steps to make sure anyone that does need to be isolated will be isolated quickly," de Blasio said. "This will be a constant effort."

    De Blasio also said he is sending 2,000 more educators, including central staff, long term substitutes, and temporary staff, to help schools that need some additional support.

    But the principals union calls that woefully short. They estimate they'll need about 10,000 to meet staffing needs.

    "The city really needs to start looking at everything they've actually agreed to and have promised the parents, the teachers and the students of New York City," Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said during a Monday afternoon Zoom conference call. "They are not making the grade in terms of getting all of this work done."

    The new measures come as teachers raise alarms about a return of students to the classroom.

    In-person classes in New York City are scheduled to begin a week from Monday, but teachers say the schools are not ready to reopen.

    Protective gear, staffing levels and contact tracing remain top concerns as the clock ticks down to the start of in-person instruction.

    Teachers say the conditions required for schools to welcome students back in the classroom have not been met and are staging a day of action Monday to pressure the mayor and Department of Education to switch to all remote.

    "None of us think logistically it's ready to reopen," said Annie Tan, a special education teacher in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, adding that the city has made little progress in fixing key issues. "The delay to Sept. 21 was just kicking the can down the road."

    Teachers at P.S. 139 in Ditmas Park were sitting outside working on their laptops refusing to go into the building, where the school sign read, "We demand safety."

    Renata Lund, whose son attends the school, came to support them.

    "We 100% support our teachers. We want them to work in a safe environment. We love our teachers here and it's heartbreaking that they are forced to balance their own safety and teaching our children," Lund said.

    Art teacher Meghan Jonynas says when they came back air vents were dirty, there was no disinfection and one teacher tested positive.

    "And a big concern for us was it took the test and tracing three days to confirm and to contact the other people who could have possibly been involved or exposed," Jonynas said. "All last week we came in, we worked, and it became clear to us that we are not ready yet. When we first came in things were clean, as the week went on it became clear that it was quite possible that nothing had been sprayed yet, even though we were told we'd be sprayed every night. We are not sure yet if everything has been disinfected, it doesn't look like it had been. There were vents that were still dirty."

    Teachers across the city are picketing, wearing red in solidarity and holding sign with the hashtag "Not until it's safe."

    Last week, when at least 24 staffers across the city tested positive, some teachers claimed they were never notified by the city's contact tracers about those positive cases.

    "We had 20-plus schools that have positive cases just without students," Tan said.

    Mulgrew said teachers having to wait days to hear about confirmed cases in their buildings is unacceptable.

    "I have informed the city of this and if it doesn't stop we're going to take court action," Mulgrew said.

    Teachers also say some schools' ventilation systems were not inspected as promised and that proper PPE was not delivered. There wasn't even soap in the bathrooms of one school.

    "I did not get any PPE, because my school only has two day's worth," Tan said. "We really don't trust the DOE to fix that within a week's time, because it's not just a DOE issue, it's a city issue."

    Every school building is supposed to be stocked with a 30-day supply of PPE for the start of the academic year, and be resupplied as needed.

    If talks of a strike were to start up again, Tan said she'd be fully supportive.

    Mulgrew declined to go into any detail about any courses of action should these problems persist.

    "What I will say is we would never do it in a way that would not leave people time to make other arrangements if they needed to do that," Mulgrew said.

    Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced ventilation inspection had been completed for the nearly 65,000 classrooms in New York City's 1,485 school buildings.

    "And what we can say is 96% of those classrooms have passed and are ready to go. Work will continue on the classrooms that need a little bit more to be done before school opens,"de Blasio said.

    The mayor has also said schools will switch to all remote instruction if they infection rate rises above 3%. It has remained at or below 1% for more than a month.

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