What to Know
- NYC announced a new threshold for 10-day school building closures: It requires four or more cases in multiple classrooms and the exposure must be traced to in-school transmission, officials said
- Despite an accelerated vaccination rollout, officials urge caution; NY and NJ are among five states that account for 44% of all new U.S. COVID infections over the latest study period, Johns Hopkins says
- The more contagious U.K. variant is now the predominant strain in the U.S., the CDC said Wednesday; it has been found in more than 16,270 cases across all 52 U.S. jurisdictions and is in all NJ counties
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an updated coronavirus-related closure policy for the nation’s largest public school system as early as Thursday, one that he says will provide families more consistent scheduling while still prioritizing safety for all students and staff.
Starting Monday, schools will only be required to switch fully remote for 10 days if it has four or more cases in multiple classrooms and the exposure is traced to the school. After those 10 days and no new outbreaks, students can return to class.
Some educational buildings house multiple schools; the new policy applies only to the individual schools in those case situations, not the entire building. If cases are reported, an investigation takes place but the whole building needn’t close for 24 hours as previously was required while that investigation is ongoing.
Previously, two confirmed cases in a school prompted a full remote switch for the building. Under the new policy, two or three positive cases within a seven-day period merit increased testing rather than forced closure. Random testing is already mandatory in schools citywide but if two or three positive cases are confirmed, weekly testing would be doubled to 40 percent of students and staff.
The strict individual classroom closure rule remains — one confirmed case means going remote. After 10 days and no new cases, students can return to class.
“This will help us to have more consistency in school attendance and schedules, keep strict health and safety standards, our situation room is always monitoring closely,” de Blasio said Thursday. “We set a gold standard from the beginning. We said we would take the best healthcare practices from around the world, apply all of them in New York City public schools. It has worked. They are the safest places to be, literally. And we want to keep getting kids back.”
Mandatory masking and other core coronavirus protocol will continue.
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
Schools have been a bright spot for the city and across the country as far as on-grounds coronavirus transmission. Weekly mandatory testing of students and staff has consistently yielded a positivity rate well below 1 percent and well below the positivity rates in surrounding communities. As of Thursday, 25 New York City school buildings are in a 24-hour closure state due to COVID cases, while zero are in the midst of an extended closure associated with a health department probe.
Based on current data, the mayor insists he remains confident schools will “absolutely” reopen full time in September. He had set a goal of getting 5 million New Yorkers vaccinated by June, and by the time kids return in the fall, the mayor says 6 million people could be vaccinated. To date, more than 2.6 million New York City residents have had at least one dose (31.5 percent of the population), while about 1.64 million (19.5 percent of the population) is fully inoculated.
Not sure how the process works? Or when you might be able to get an appointment? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
With new daily COVID-19 cases plateauing at a level quadruple what they were in early November plateau and more contagious variants accounting for most new cases, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew says any rule changes “have to take the safety of children and their families into account.”
De Blasio said Thursday the city worked with the union to devise the new closure threshold and would continue to work closely with the union on safety concerns.
“We worked with the unions who represent the folks who educate our kids and take care of our kids. We worked with the unions to work through these issues to find an approach that would really focus on health and safety for all,” he said.
It was an agreement with Mulgrew’s union that forced a citywide public school closure in mid-November, when the city hit a then highly controversial 3 percent rolling positivity rate threshold. That seven-day rolling rate hasn’t fallen below 3 percent since. But the in-school transmission rate has stayed exceedingly low.
Earlier this week, de Blasio suggested more recent scientific data warranted the change for the two-case rule, citing a scholarly journal report by his senior adviser, Dr. Jay Varma, that found about 80 percent of school infections stem from adults.
New Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter echoed the mayor’s sentiments Thursday.
“We have said since the beginning of this pandemic that we will make science-driven adjustments as our public health experts learn more about this disease and how it impacts our schools,” Porter said. “Following the guidance from the CDC and our own public health experts we can now confidently make updates to our closure policies and adapt to deliver a more targeted, precise response to situations in our school communities.”
“We know this policy will mean a lot to families, to students and to all of our school communities,” she added.
The city recently extended its opt-in to in-person learning option for families until Friday. That deadline holds, Porter said Thursday.
The city did a second phased reopening for its public schools, bringing back elementary and special education students in early December and middle schoolers back in January. High schoolers got their first chance since November to return to their physical classrooms only a few weeks ago.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that scrapping the 2-case rule in the city’s public schools is already sparking another fight with the teachers union. It’s not clear just how relaxed the mayor intends on making the new rule. NBC New York’s Chris Glorioso reports.
Concerns over one particular strain heightened on Wednesday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the highly contagious variant first identified in the U.K. last year, known as the B.1.1.7 strain, is now the predominant strain circulating in the United States.
As of the latest data, the U.K. variant has been found in more than 16,270 cases in all 52 U.S. jurisdictions. The U.K. variant accounts for 26 percent of COVID-19 cases across the nation as of last week, CDC Director Dr. Rachelle Walensky said, but she said more testing is needed to identify and isolate variants of concern.
New Jersey agrees. On Wednesday, state health officials said they had identified nearly 900 potential variants of interest across the state. The U.K. variant accounts for the lion’s share of those cases (806) and has now been detected in every single New Jersey county, officials said. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the state has only been conducting genomic sequencing of about 2 percent of positive COVID samples in the state, which lends credence to the long-stated assumption that variant representation in the state is underreported. Starting next week, she hopes to get that sampling number up to about 5 percent.
New York City has stepped up its reporting of variants as well in recent months. As of its latest report, the U.K. variant had been found in at least 590 people, a 35 percent increase from its prior data release. Genomic sequencing of a subset of virus specimens taken from city residents during the week starting March 15 found an estimated 26.2 percent of all tested were the B.1.1.7 variant.
Far more prevalent is the B.1.526 variant, the strain thought to have originated in Washington Heights last year before spreading to other boroughs and states, including New Jersey, which has identified more than 110 cases of that.
Pfizer and Biontech announced Thursday that their vaccine has proven effective against the coronavirus for at least six months after the second dose, including the South African variant.
A combination of the two strains are thought to account for nearly three-quarters of all new recent cases in New York City, officials have said. City health officials have stressed that not all variants are reasons for public health concern. The B.1.526 variant does appear similar in heightened infectiousness to the U.K. strain, Varma has said, but a preliminary analysis does not show it causes more severe illness or risk of death or that it reduces the effectiveness of vaccines.
As recently as this week, NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi acknowledged new variants were fueling viral spread across the five boroughs, but he reiterated there’s no evidence of worsening outcomes among the infected.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here’s the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
New York and New Jersey are among five states that account for 44 percent of all new U.S. COVID infections over the latest seven-day period available for study, Johns Hopkins data shows.
That’s why both Gov. Phil Murphy and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with de Blasio, urge continued caution by their residents even amid the welcome accelerations to the national vaccination rollout. Murphy’s health team recently shared moderate- and high-case scenarios for the state’s COVID outlook the next few months. Those scenarios depend on certain assumptions, including vaccination rates and public behavior — as well as the potential risk from lowering the collective guard.
In the worst-case scenario, the Garden State could set new single-day pandemic records for daily case totals into mid-May, though hospitalization and death rates would stay lower than their previous peaks. In a new best-case scenario shared for the first time Wednesday, core COVID metrics would hover around 4,350 new daily cases and 2,129 total hospitalizations through April 18. That best-case scenario is more similar to the moderate case than the latter is to the high one.
Murphy believes New Jersey’s prognosis will fall somewhere between the first two, but was noncommital as far as major reopening steps the state might take over the next months. He warned the impact of public behavior couldn’t be overestimated as the state’s vaccine program tries to reach those most hesitant.
“It’s why we are continuing to enforce our statewide mask mandate especially for indoor activities, where we know that transmission is more likely and also in the face of more transmissible variants that we know are among us,” Murphy said. “It’s also a reason why we moved up our vaccine eligibility timeframe aggressively, so we can now add more people to the ranks of fully vaccinated in a shorter time.”
As of Thursday, New Jersey had fully inoculated about 21 percent of its population, while more than 35 percent has had at least one dose.
Heavy concentration of new virus cases in states that account for 22 percent of the U.S. population has prompted some experts and elected officials to call for Biden’s administration to ship additional vaccine doses there. So far, the White House has shown no signs of shifting from its population-based policy.
President Joe Biden has set an April 19 deadline for all states to make vaccinations universally available to adults. New York took that step Tuesday, while Connecticut did so last week. New Jersey makes the move on April 19.
Nationally, more than 42 percent of U.S. adults age 18 and older have received at least one dose, while a quarter of the country’s adult population is now fully inoculated, according to the CDC.
New real time information is allowing scientists at Hackensack Medical Center to develop a new rapid test that detects COVID-19 variants. NBC New York’s Brian Thompson reports.
It’s still unclear how long protection lasts for those who are vaccinated, the CDC says, though new research suggests Moderna’s vaccine protection lasts at least six months. It takes about two weeks after the final shot to build immunity.
According to NBC News’ latest count, there have been more than 31 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, with the country seeing another million cases added in just the last two weeks. More than 562,000 deaths have been reported in the U.S. as well, 64 percent more fatalities than the next closest country, Brazil. Brooklyn is the second deadliest-COVID county in America behind Los Angeles County, while Queens and the Bronx rank fifth and sixth respectively, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins.