Eric Adams, a former cop and Brooklyn borough president who, as of Jan. 1, took over as the mayor of NYC, has pledged - alongside his predecessor, Bill de Blasio - to keep students safe and schools open.
Former NYC schools chancellor Meisha Porter and incoming Schools Chancellor David Banks pledged last week that Adams' team would pursue a multi-pronged approach for safely returning to school in-person this January following winter break. While the city's Department of Education has encouraged all faculty and students to get vaccinated, they stopped short of making it a requirement (presumably for fear that it would prevent faculty from returning to work).
What's more, the city is adding city-run testing sites this week, while the DOE will double the in-school surveillance testing programs and deploy millions of at-home rapid tests to allow students to continue learning in school.
In a statement released late last week, de Blasio, Adams and Porter all shared statements about the city's plans for keeping schools open, come hell or high water.
"Schools are among the safest places to be throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re working closely with the incoming administration to keep it that way,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “By doubling COVID-19 testing in schools, getting our students vaccinated, and sending students, teachers and staff home with at-home test kits, we can keep everyone healthy and finish out this school year strong."
"The numbers speak for themselves - your kids are safer in school," said Mayor-Elect Eric Adams. "Thanks to testing, vaccinations, and at-home testing kits we’ll keep it that way. We’re working closely with the de Blasio Administration and we’ll be ready to bring students and staff back to the classroom on January 3rd. This is how we move our city forward."
"The safety of our students, staff members, and communities is our top priority," said Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter. "Thanks to our multi-layered, gold standard approach to health and safety, New York City's schools continue to be some of the safest places to be during this pandemic. These new measures in school testing build on our high standards for safety, protects our communities, and allows for students to continue receiving an excellent education in-person."
Meanwhile, Adams told Bloomberg TV on Monday that public sector employees are required to be fully vaccinated. A vaccine mandate for private sector workers went into place on Dec. 27, with employees required to get their second dose within 45 days or they won’t be allowed to enter their workplaces,
Just as Wall Street banks and insurance companies delay their employees' return to the office, Adams said he was urging banks and other businesses who are letting employees work from home during the winter COVID surge to instead bring those workers back to the office.
"That accountant from a bank that sits in an office, it’s not only him, it's our financial ecosystem. He goes out to the restaurant. He brings the business travel, which is 70% of our hotel occupancy. He participates in the economy," Adams said.
NYC's positivity rate has climbed to a staggering 33% as one in every three COVID tests administered in the city has come back positive, according to data from Reuters. That's substantially higher than the 18% rate nationwide.
Outside of the city, thousands of schools across the US ended up delaying the scheduled return to classroom.
This week's scheduled return to classrooms following the holiday break or switched to remote learning as the omicron variant of the coronavirus pushed COVID cases to record levels. Nationally, there were more than 2,750 school closures this week.
The speed of omicron's spread has created what Reuters described as "a broadening sense of chaos in the first few days of 2022." The number of new COVID cases has doubled during the past week to a record-setting average of 418,000 a day.
Cities including Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit either implemented online instruction or canceled school altogether this week for tens of thousands of students, citing both staff shortages and the threat of omicron.
Across New Jersey, which has seen some of the highest case rates in recent weeks, most urban school districts have returned to virtual learning to start the year, including the Garden's State's biggest district, Newark.
Down in Atlanta, Anna Beale Smith, a mother of two, told Reuters that while she supports the decision to switch the city's public schools to remote learning this week, she wishes the district made the announcement earlier. The Saturday night announcement left too many parents like herself scrambling, she said.
"I've been really disappointed and frustrated in the lack of communication and the lack of clear planning," said Smith, 41, who works in healthcare.
During the past week, the number of hospitalized COVID patients rose 40%, up to 72% of the previous peak seen in January 2021, according to Reuters. COVID deaths in the US have held fairly steady at 1,300 lives lost on average each day. Still, the sheer number of new cases has alarmed health officials with hospital systems in many states already strained. Maryland, Ohio, Delaware and Washington DC are all at, or near, record number of beds filled with COVID patients. Staffing shortages and a snowstorm moving through the eastern US created further travel woes, with more than 4.4K flights canceled on Monday worldwide, including nearly 3K flights in the US, according to the tracking website FlightAware.
Finally, the schools that are pressing ahead with reopening have apparently gotten their hands on thousands of take-home rapid tests. For example, Boston distributed 55K tests to students ahead of the winter break. Schools are still scheduled to open on Tuesday, though the superintendent of schools, Brenda Cassellius, told reporters on Monday that she anticipates omicron-related staff shortages. "If I have to go out and teach in a classroom, I'm going to do that," the superintendent said. .
Across the pond, the situation is more dire for educators, as lockdowns in European countries leave students stuck at home. However, in the Netherlands, officials have ordered students to return to school. After two weeks of living under strict lockdown conditions, the Netherlands will reopen primary and secondary schools on Jan. 10 despite coronavirus infections remaining high, the government said on Monday.
The government added that hospital admissions had fallen substantially since the lockdown's start. Meanwhile, in England, authorities have said they will now require students to wear face coverings.
"We want to maximize the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time," said Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi during an interview with the Sunday Telegraph. "One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed."
Prior to this change, England was the only one of the UK's four constituent nations that hadn't required students to wear masks in class.