Jersey City public schools are expected to open on April 26 for in-person instruction, but coronavirus variants and their effects on children could change the district’s plans.
Board of Education President Mussab Ali said the schools are still on course to reopen, but there is some concern over some of the variations of COVID-19 that have triggered a third wave of the virus. He said Superintendent Franklin Walker will make his final decision on April 19 at the BOE caucus.
“If you asked me two weeks ago, I would say I was more confident at the school reopening than I am today,” Ali said. “Just given what happened with the variant and given what is happening with this third wave.”
He added teachers are expected to return to the schools on April 15.
Walker and Deputy Superintendent Norma Fernandez were unavailable for comment.
Ali said the board and the district will be closely watching Newark public schools, the state’s largest school district, as they reopen on April 12.
“As they are open for a week or two, if they are able to do it and we look at their best practices and see everything that is happening there, I think it will give us more confidence,” Ali said. “But if Newark opens and within a week shuts down the entire district, I don’t think that bodes well in terms of what it will look like for us.”
Dr. Alexander Sarenac, the director of emergency medicine at Hudson Regional Hospital, said COVID-19 overall has made very few children sick. He said he himself has not put any children on oxygen or admitted any children for COVID-19 related symptoms while working in the ER.
But two virus variances, from the United Kingdom and South Africa, area believed to increase the virus’ transmission rate by 40 to 70%, he said. Sarenac said the mortality rate COVID-19 has had on children overall is “extremely low.”
“As to how the new variance might affect children is that the transmissibility, the chance you will get it, is likely higher,” Sarenac said. “However, it is really not been determined if any children will get seriously ill from it, (but they might develop) mild symptoms. I would expect that to increase but I guess the mortality rate is very low and is low in the adult population, but it is probably extremely low in the child population.”
Sarenac added some children have developed a multi-system inflammatory disease, possibly due to COVID-19 exposure, that is still being studied. He said it is something that is seen among children with other viral infections, but he did not have any data on the subject.
Jersey City had over 848 positive COVID-19 cases in just the first week of April. In March, the city had a total of 4,091 cases, just slightly under the amount of total positive cases in April 2020. There have been 18 deaths in the county, seven of those from Jersey City.
The school district’s 30,000 students have not seen the inside of their schools in over a year, and could soon be returning for at least two days of in-person learning a week. Roughly 40 percent of parents are expected to send their children back to the school buildings based on a survey that only half of the district’s parents answered.
New Jersey officials said last week that variants, including the strain from the United Kingdom, were contributing to a rise in cases and hospitalizations. In March, there was an up to 48% increase in the number of hospitalizations among the 20-29 and 40-49 age groups in New Jersey, ABC News reported.