NEW YORK — The state Education Department released guidance Monday detailing how New York’s 713 school districts can make plans to reopen.
Schools could reopen in September in regions in phase IV with a COVID-19 infection rate under 5% over a 14-day average. Schools will close if a region’s infection rate surges above 9% over a seven-day average since Aug. 1.
Districts will not resume in-person instruction if the virus spikes between Aug. 1 and the first day of classes.
“Everyone wants to reopen schools — everyone,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday during a pandemic briefing in his Manhattan office. “How do you know it’s safe? You look at the data.
“If you have the virus under control, reopen. We’re not going to use our children as the litmus test and we’re not going to put our children in a place where their health is endangered.”
A 5% infection rate indicates the virus is under control, Cuomo said.
Each district must submit plans to the state by July 31 detailing the social distancing, reduced capacity and other precautions administrators will implement to resume in-classroom instruction and reduce the virus spread. New York’s Health and Education departments devised guidelines with 20 education officials as part of the state’s Reimagine Education Advisory Council for the past several weeks, including procedures for transportation, food service, after-school care and extracurricular activities, masks/PPE for students and staff, cohort structures, student screenings and daily temperature checks, cleaning and school closures.
“Every child and person entering [a school] will be screened,” Cuomo said. “Contact tracing has to work in the schools — it’s all in the guidelines.”
Officials will determine if schools will reopen this fall in the first week of August, or by Aug. 7.
The governor criticized President Donald Trump and the White House for gross negligence in the federal government’s coronavirus response.
“It was one of the great federal blunders in history — it cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars,” Cuomo said. “It was a terrible miss and a terrible mistake and it’s what created the spike in New York.”
Trump and the federal government pushed states to quickly reopen to help the national economy. Cuomo said the rushed reopening, compared to New York’s gradual economic comeback, was another reckless error amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was the federal government that caused our problem, and then frankly, wanted to have nothing to do with the solution,” Cuomo said, adding the president declared a federal emergency.
“You know what a federal emergency declaration means? You know who’s in charge of federal emergencies? The federal government. That’s why they use the word ‘federal’ in all of those expressions. ... If they’re not going to address a problem that hurts every person in the United States, what is your role?”
The president has repeatedly denied the severity, and at times the existence, of the virus. Cuomo repeated his weeks-long criticism of Trump’s denial and attack on scientific data. Over the last several days, the president questioned the credibility of the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The president now says his own health officials are lying about the virus — his own CDC,” Cuomo said. “If the president is telling the truth, he should fire them. … Trump’s COVID-19 scandal makes what Nixon did at Watergate look innocent. No body died in the Watergate scandal.”
Officials will consider the effect of noncompliance and the overall national outbreak when making statewide COVID-19-related decisions.
The state will send COVID-19 diagnostic testing and contact tracing teams to Atlanta as the Georgia capital city and that state battle a surging coronavirus outbreak. Atlanta had 23% COVID-19 positive test rate Sunday. The virus continues to spread in 39 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.
“We’re headed in the wrong direction,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who joined Cuomo via videoconference on Monday. “What makes it even more frustrating and even more disappointing, we didn’t have to look to Italy, we could look to New York ... you told us very clearly that if we didn’t do things differently in our cities and states, we will find ourselves in the same situation that New York was facing and unfortunately, you were correct because throughout the South, especially, we are getting there in rapid order.”
Cuomo has repeatedly offered New York health care workers, coronavirus testing supplies, personal protective equipment and more to assist other states. About 30,000 out-of-state health care employees volunteered to travel to New York to assist in hospitals at the height of the pandemic in the state this spring.
“Anything we can do to help,” the governor said. “We’re at a stale period now. We’re 100% behind you, and we wish you God speed and we hope Atlanta, under your guidance, comes back quickly.”
Ten New Yorkers died from the virus Sunday, including eight in hospitals and two in nursing homes. The state’s virus-related fatalities have remained flat for several weeks, up from five fatalities Friday and six Saturday.
The state’s total virus hospitalizations decreased to 792 Monday — the lowest since March 18. More than 18,000 New York patients were hospitalized at the peak in April.
The state reported 557 new COVID-19 cases, or about 1%, of the 51,687 tests conducted Sunday. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a low, consistent positive COVID-19 testing rate of 1.5% or lower.
The governor reminded New Yorkers and urged government officials to enforce wearing masks in public and taking appropriate precautions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Cuomo also announced Monday that additional enforcement will begin in New York airports to ensure travelers self-quarantine from states with high coronavirus COVID-19 infection rates.
Travelers from 19 states with high COVID-19 infections are required to self-isolate for two weeks when landing in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as part of a June 25 order. Cuomo and his top aides remain perplexed out-of-state travelers will cause a second wave of the virus to ravage New York.
Cuomo issued an emergency health order Monday mandating travelers from the designated states fill out a form to provide their quarantine location before leaving the airport. Enforcement teams will be stationed at airports statewide to meet arriving aircraft at gates and greet disembarking passengers to request proof of completion of the Health Department’s traveler form. Airlines distribute the form to passengers before boarding or disembarking New York flights.
A new, electronic version of the form is available on the state Health Department website for travelers to complete before flying. Travelers who leave the airport without providing the information will immediately be issued a summons and receive a $2,000 fine and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine. Essential workers are not required to self-quarantine.
“None of this is pleasant, but we’ve gone through this before,” Cuomo said. “Fool me once, we can’t be in a situation like before. ... When does the infection rate stop? When you stop it.”
The additional enforcement comes on the heels of three Rensselaer County residents testing positive over the weekend following their recent return from Georgia. Two work in nursing homes and were identified as a result of the state’s weekly mandated testing for nursing home staff. None of the travelers reported their arrival to the state, according to the governor’s office.
To access or complete a state traveler form, visit forms.ny.gov/s3/Welcome-to-New-York-State-Traveler-Health-Form