Friday, July 31, 2020

Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Carranza, and Test and Trace Ted Long on Reopening Public Schools

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. Well, this morning, we're going to talk about the most important piece of reopening this city, restarting this city, the thing that matters so deeply to our children and our families, and that's starting our schools up again. And it is something we all feel deeply about passionately about because it's about our kids and it's about their futures and it's about their health and safety. So, we're going to talk about that today to give you a sense of what will come up ahead in September. But first I want to take a moment because it's an important time of year for so many New Yorkers. So, I want to wish our Muslim sisters and brothers a safe and blessed Eid Al-Adha. And this is a celebration that is so important in the Muslim community. It will be different this year, obviously, because of what we're all facing with the coronavirus but the community is strong. Like every community in New York City, people are sticking together, helping each other out. So, I want to say to everyone, Eid Mubarak, wish you a wonderful holiday.


Now, when we think each year about going back to school, this is a very, very important time of the year, it’s a time filled with anticipation in normal years, anticipation, hope, possibility, worries, anxiety. We all know what that felt like when we were kids. And I can say this as someone who was a public school parent for the entire education of both of my kids that back to school time was always a very, very special time each year. Now this year it's filled with so many other strong emotions and this year it's filled with a whole different reality because this year it's about health and safety first. That's what we're going to be talking about today. Everything we do is going to be focused on health and safety – health and safety for our kids, our families, our educators, our school staff. And every one of us who's going to talk today is going to talk from the perspective, not just as leaders, but as parents – what we would need and expect for our own kids is exactly the way we've approached this here today. I'm not going to do anything when it comes to New York City public schools that is anything less but then – the standard I would set for my very own children. I want to know, every parent wants to know, every day are your kids safe? We have to make sure that everything we do meets that standard constantly. And if it isn't safe, we don't do it. It's as simple as that. So, a huge amount of effort has gone in to getting our schools ready, months and months of preparation. We are sparing no expense. We're going to do whatever it takes. And we understand the anxiety. We understand the fear because this city has been through so much, because we look around the country and we see really, really troubling things happening. But we also have to remember how this city has fought back.


So, every place in the country is different, every place has different approaches, but in this city over five months, we went from the worst possible situation to now being in one of the strongest situations in our nation. We fought our way back because we were all disciplined and smart about it. And now we're ready to reopen schools the right way and to serve our kids. And our kids have been through so much. Let’s remember, we have to think about the needs of parents, educators, staff, all the time. We have to make sure everyone's safe, but we also have to remember our kids and what they've been through, the challenges, the trauma, the dislocation. We owe it to them to give them anything we can to help them move forward after what they've been through. And I know for a fact – and I've talked to a lot of educators about this – that when kids are in school, there's the greatest possibility that they can learn better, that they can continue to grow and develop socially. There's so many reasons for a child to be in school, including the food they get, the health care they get, the emotional support they get. This is why it matters so much, but it has to be done safely. Now, the people have spoken. We surveyed parents – 400,000 responses to our survey, 75 percent want their kids back in the classroom, and that is exactly what we are going to do.


The plan – the essence of this plan is safety for everyone. And I need people to hear that because I know there's tremendous concern out there, but whether you're a student, parent, educator, staff member, your safety is the essence of this plan. And I can prove that by showing you all the different things that have gone into this plan and the fact that we're going to have an extremely rigorous standard for opening schools, or, if necessary, closing schools, because we are putting health and safety first. So, what are we doing? You've heard some of it before – we're using blended learning. Kids in school when they could be in school, remote when they can't, remote learning for any child, any family that prefers remote learning all the time. Social distancing guidelines in every part of the school, in the classroom and every other part of the school. Face coverings for everyone, free priority testing for everyone in the school community, making sure that teachers, kids, staff all have the personal protective equipment for free.


We are going to go to the farthest extent and what we're going to do is the thing that has helped New York City come back the whole time, which is focus on science, focus on fact, focus on data. And so, we are going to hold New York City to a very high standard, our schools to a very high standard. We will not reopen our schools unless the city infection rate is below three percent. So, every day I go over the daily indicators with you, number of people testing positive for COVID-19 citywide, unless that number is below three percent, we will not reopen schools. That number is below three percent, we will move ahead with our plan. Now, let's be clear, I'm very hopeful when I say that because New York City, thanks to all of your good efforts, has been under three percent since June 10th, six weeks in a row now. That's extraordinary. And today's indicators are very strong again. We know we can do it, but I want to hold that very tough, tough standard, because I want to keep us all focused on what we have to do to keep safety first. And this is a way of proving that we will do things the right way, setting a very tough bar, but also one I am convinced we can achieve.


So, look, we have to remember, nothing is more important in New York City than protecting our kids, helping our kids grow, helping them learn. They are our future in every sense, every family feels that. That's the path we've been on over seven years. That's what we're going to keep doing. As I turned to the Chancellor, I want to say the Chancellor and his team have worked incessantly to get this right. They've looked at examples from all over the world of what will keep the school community safe. And they've made a series of choices of how to do things from a health and safety lens first, while also making sure we can educate our kids. And I want to thank you, Chancellor, and your whole team for the work you're doing. Please give us an update.


Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. First, I want to acknowledge what we all know to be true. March was extremely challenging for all of us – the entire city, the doctors, our scientists included. We're learning about this disease in real time in many cases with information that just wasn't known. It was one of the toughest times that we have faced as a city and as a school system. I also remember the fear and the confusion and the worry. So, it's important to me that we build on everything we've learned over these past five months and everything we have been through since then. We are approaching reopening by centering health and safety as our foundational approach, basing our policies on the expertise of health professionals, period. We are focusing on the science, not science fiction.


So, here's what that looks like. In New York City, tens of thousands of New Yorkers are being tested every day. And we will be asking staff to get tested in the days prior to school. The City will prioritize free testing for school-based staff with 24-hour turnaround time results at any of the 34 City-run testing locations. School-based staff members are also encouraged to opt into monthly COVID-19 testing, which is critically important. We are thoughtfully opening schools with physical distancing and cohorting of students requiring face coverings and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day and night. If an illness does occur, we will respond quickly, communicate clearly during investigations and promptly to share decisions to quarantine classrooms, or if necessary, close schools. This approach means that we are well equipped to mitigate risk and share critical information with our school communities. You'll hear in a moment about the different scenarios we've mapped out in partnership with our colleagues at NYC Test and Trace Corps, and the procedures that will be followed if someone tests positive in a school.


But I want to speak directly to families and members of our school communities and affirm this – your health and safety remained our highest priority. I know how hard this is. I've been a public school parent. I've been a teacher for over a decade in a classroom. I've been a principal. And I know what it feels like to want to do the best you can in education for your child or for your students while ensuring that their health and safety and your health and safety is also being attended to, that's why we're taking this approach. That's why we won't settle for anything, but the strictest and most rigorous processes for coming back to school, we have your back and that will never change.


Mayor: Thank you so much, Chancellor. And I want to – I really want to emphasize that everything the Chancellor says, everything the Chancellor's team has been working on is about the health and safety of our kids and the whole school community. They've also been putting a lot of time and energy into thinking about the emotional needs of our kids, the mental health challenges our kids have gone through. So, I wanted to just give a special thank you to you, Chancellor, to Deputy Chancellor Lashawn Robinson and her whole team. So many people at the Department of Education are really thinking about what our kids will need after going through this trauma and how coming back to school is an opportunity to really address that trauma and help them and support them. So, I want to thank you, because that's a really important part of this equation as well.


Now, when we plan with a health and safety-first perspective, we think of it very, very rigorously. That's why we're setting this really tough, rigorous standard to determine if and when we reopened. And again, right now, we are clearly meeting that standard, but we also have to be realistic when we plan. We plan for every eventuality, including when there's a problem, what you do about that problem. So, we need to be ready if a child in a classroom becomes sick, if a child in the classroom was identified as positive with COVID-19, we need a plan for that. If it happens in more than one classroom, we need a plan for that. I want to emphasize the goal of this approach is that kids in a single classroom stay together as much as possible the whole school day with very few adults in contact with them. The whole idea of this plan is to limit the amount of movement in the school, limit the amount of people coming in contact with each other, keep kids as much as possible in the same group all day long for everyone's protection, but it also allows us, if there is, God forbid, a case to be able to act on it a lot more effectively. So, here to tell you about what we do, if there is a case in a school is the Director of our city Test and Trace Corps, Dr. Ted Long.


Executive Director Ted Long, Test and Trace Corps: Thank you, sir. As a parent myself, the safety and health of my son is always my highest priority. We've designed a tracing operation for our schools that puts the safety and health of our teachers, students, and kids like my son at the center at all times. And I'm going to walk you through some of the high points today.


Now, for a positive case, it could be reported by a parent teacher or another student. Importantly, a positive case must be laboratory confirmed. For any laboratory confirmed positive case, we have a simple rule that we use that rule – that rule is that any – the entire classroom, meaning all of the teachers – the teacher of the classroom and all of the students in the classroom will quarantine for 14 days after when that positive cases identified. Before that positive case would have been reported, if there is a child that's symptomatic in the school, we have the child or the teacher that's symptomatic in the school leave the school as soon as possible to prevent transmission of the virus to anybody else in the school. The same way any good health care policy starts with prevention, if the child or teacher is symptomatic at home, we require that the child or student stay at home and not come to this school and potentially risk infecting other people in the school. The next step in either of those two scenarios is that we want the child or the teacher to get tested at one of our more than 200 sites across New York City, free of charge.


Now, we've talked about what we want to do before the child or the teacher comes into the school. We've talked about our simple rule – again, if there’s a case in a classroom, the kids, students and the teacher are going to quarantine for 14 days, no matter what. Now, what we do in addition to having that rule come into effect is we do an investigation. The investigation is done between the Department of Health and the New York City Test and Trace Corps. That investigation we'll have one of two outcomes. If there's a single case in a school – again, the rule was invoked, the classroom, meaning the students in the classroom and the teacher are going to quarantine for two weeks, 14 days, no matter what, and in addition that investigation may find that there are other close contacts of the case in the school. Those other close contacts will also quarantine at home for two weeks. During the investigation, if it's relegated to one case, the school will remain open, and when the investigation concludes the classroom and any close contact to a quarantine for two weeks.


Now, if there's more than one case in a school, and it's not in the same classroom, during the investigation by the Test and Trace Corps and the Department of Health, the school will close for 24 hours. The reason for that is we want to keep everybody safe while we do the investigation. When the investigation concludes, one of two things will happen. The first outcome could be that the classroom, again, all of the students and the teacher, would quarantine for two weeks – that's the rule that's going to happen no matter what – and any close contacts identified from either of the two or more cases would also quarantine for two weeks, but the school can reopen. That will be outcome number one. The second outcome would be that if we believe there is transmission or risk of transmission in this school between those more than one cases, then the school has already been closed for at least 24 hours during the investigation, the school remain closed – both the classrooms, which happens either way per our rule, but also the rest of the school to ensure that everybody in the school can be safe. And then, everybody in the school quarantine for the 14-day period.


Again, as a parent myself, the safety and health of our teachers, students, and kids like my son, Dave, must be at the center of everything we do. Thank you.


Mayor: Thank you very much, Dr. Long. Everybody I'm going to go over the indicators now, and this really puts a point on the progress we've made and the progress we've got to stick with to be able to open schools effectively and then go on from there as we restart and rebuild. So, indicator number one, daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19, threshold is 200 – today's report, 65 patients. Number two, daily number of people in Health + Hospitals ICU’s, threshold 375 – today's report, 268. And here is the most important one, percentage of people testing citywide positive for COVID-19, threshold is 15 percent – today's report, one percent. So, again, that's the lowest we have been and that is credit to every one of you. And let's double down on that, that's how we move forward, is keeping number low.

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