(Bloomberg) -- New York City’s daily rate of positive coronavirus tests is more than 3% for the first time in months, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
The rate was 3.25%. The seven-day rolling average -- the criterion that determines whether schools stay open -- is 1.38%, well below the 3% that would force closure of the system’s part-time in-class learning. The surge is primarily in nine of 146 ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens, de Blasio said, noting that the other 137 ZIP codes remain around 1%.
“We know we can turn this around, but everyone has to be a part of it,” de Blasio said at a press briefing Tuesday, hours after elementary schools opened for hundreds of thousands of students.
The city has deployed more testing-and-tracing workers and made thousands of robocalls to the affected areas, said Mitchell Katz, who heads the public hospital system. Businesses may be ordered shut if infection rates continue to rise, and non-public schools will be closed if they don’t follow mask-wearing, social distancing and hygienic safeguards, de Blasio said.
The city reported 338 new cases, still below its threshold of 550. Areas with positivity above 3% include Gravesend/Homecrest, with 6.72%; Midwood, at 5.53%; Borough Park with 5.26% and Bensonhurst/Mapleton at 5.15%. The city is also seeing more cases and higher positivity in Rego Park, Kensington/Windsor Terrace and the Brighton Beach ZIP code.
The ZIP codes include several Orthodox Jewish communities, which officials have said had resisted mask-wearing. The city has deployed about 350 test-and-trace workers and seven sound trucks blaring safety messages in Yiddish and English, and sent thousands of robocalls to the areas, said Katz.
“We’re using every tool, and we’re open to using other tools,” Katz said.
Major holidays -- and the risk of large gatherings -- lie ahead for the community, which just observed Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Sukkot lasts from Oct. 2 to Oct. 9, followed immediately by Simchat Torah.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a news conference he would meet with religious leaders.
Across the city, as many as 500,000 students will be in class, part of the largest public-school system in the U.S. De Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza said Tuesday’s openings went smoothly, while the teachers’ union voiced concerns.
Children by the tens of thousands in K-5 and K-8 schools started participating in the program combining small classes of in-school instruction one to three days a week with remote online teaching at home. The program will extend to hundreds of thousands more Thursday as middle and high schools open.
About 48% of the city’s public-school families have chosen to keep their children at home for all-remote learning, officials have said. They can change their minds and join the blended program in November.
Educators have been assigned to every in-school classroom and for every remote class, but the city hasn’t yet been able to provide a teacher for each blended lesson at home, said Alison Gendar, a spokeswoman for the United Federation of Teachers. At-home blended instruction students and those in class may have follow the same lesson plan simultaneously, with students in school opening their mobile devices at their desks and the teacher in front of them in the room.
Ventilation problems still vex more than 20 high schools, but there may be time to fix many before Thursday, Gendar said. Other buildings’ heating systems aren’t equipped to operate with windows open, and new locations may have to be found, she said. The union has set up a hotline and a helpline and about 100 staffers have been deployed, each checking on several schools, Gendar said.
Starting next week, the city will begin random testing each month in every school with rapid-result saliva tests, rather than the long nasal swabs that take much more time to receive results, the mayor said.
“We will continue to be diligent on all safety measures at all times,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who described himself as “cautiously optimistic.”
Cuomo said the state can close any school in New York.
“Can you operate schools safely? We will know by the facts,” Cuomo said. “We’ll get the facts and we will know and we’ll operate logically.”
“You have my word as a parent, as a citizen, as your representative. If a school is not safe, I will not allow it to operate.”
(Adds school reopening progress in sixth paragraph.)
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