NYC Moves Back to Remote-Only Instruction as COVID-19 Positivity Rate...


NYC Moves Back to Remote-Only Instruction as COVID-19 Positivity Rate Tops 3 Percent

Nov 18, 2020

Earlier today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to announce what observers had been expecting for some time: beginning on Thursday, the city’s public school buildings will shutter and students will learn remotely for the foreseeable future. The district serves 1.1 million students, about 300,000 of whom are currently attending school in-person for some portion of the week.

The move was triggered by the city reaching a three percent COVID-19 positivity rate as a seven-day rolling average.

While New York City was one of the U.S. epicenters of the pandemic spread in the spring, case counts declined in the months after. This allowed the city to gradually reopen school buildings beginning eight weeks ago—the first major city to do so. In the last few weeks, the city has seen a setback as COVID-19 cases surged.

The city’s decision is not sitting well with some New Yorkers, who point to the fact that the transmission rate within New York City schools stood at just 0.17 percent over the last month, and that recent research suggests that schools are not a major vector for spreading the virus. Critics also blast de Blasio’s decision to keep restaurants and gyms open while closing schools as a case of misplaced priorities.

New York City is far from alone in shifting to remote learning after witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last few weeks. Detroit went back to remote learning earlier this week, and nearly two dozen school districts in Iowa have received waivers from the state to move to or continue online learning. The changes come as COVID-19 cases are increasing in nearly every state and the number of new infections have exceeded 100,000 every day for the past couple weeks.

In the absence of federal guidance, school districts have identified their own triggers for moving from fully in-person or hybrid learning to remote learning. For example, Boston decided to delay a return to physical classrooms after the positivity rate topped four percent.

In a recent analysis, based on data in the EdSurge/Social Context Labs database, EdSurge found that districts in states with higher COVID-19 positivity rates were actually more likely to have attendance structures with some in-person component. In a few cases, districts remained open for in-person or hybrid learning in states with positivity rates that topped 20 percent.

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