One Test at a Time: COVID-19 Testing and NYC Public Schools

The road to ensuring the health and safety of New York City public school students is a long one.

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Arian Berisha

With some schools around the city closing down due to COVID infections, the Bronx High School of Science remains an example of how there is still potential for safe blended, in-person learning. “As I see it, there are little to no changes I would make to the implementations and rules, seriously taken, that the school has put into place. I also enjoy going to classes, learning, and seeing all of the teachers and staff in person, of whom I am very fond. I feel safe within the school,” said Faika Tabia ’21.

With no signs of the novel Coronavirus slowing down, New York City is faced with allocating resources and funds towards increasing school testing. Even with the already ambitious goal of achieving a system of random testing throughout NYC’s 1,800 public schools, more needs to be done to protect the students. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been crucial in bringing down the number of cases in New York City’s most COVID-19 disease-prone areas. As one of the first measures, Cuomo has promised to leverage resources so that 200,000 rapid test kits could be provided to New York City schools in “yellow zones.” Cuomo’s color classification of different zones – descending in priority from red to orange to yellow – has established a metric to determine which parts of the five boroughs need the most assistance. In red and orange zones, Cuomo has limited schooling to remote learning for the time being in order to reduce COVID-19 spread within the community. 

“I believe that the governor is being responsible and efficient through his plan of ramping up testing for New York City schools, because the results from these tests can tell us about the current state that New York is in in terms of COVID-19 daily infection rates. It also allows the government to determine if any further measures need to be taken in order to lessen the number of cases,” said Mithila Dey ’21.

One of the main issues is the long-term effect of closing schools again as it relates to preventing members of marginalized communities from attending school. The New York City Council relayed a statistic that claims Black and Hispanic students are “nearly eight times” more likely to have worse attendance records with remote schooling. In the aggregate, these communities will face larger discrepancies in the quality of their education compared to their peers elsewhere. While shutting down schools must occur if proven necessary, there must be increased attention towards limiting the contact rate, so that students who are not well-accommodated for online learning can eventually return to school.

Researchers at New York University determined that, in order to limit the number of outbreaks, there would need to be a bump in the amount of random testing per month from one to two times, to preserve the statistical accuracy of the number of cases reported. With only 20% of students being opted in for testing, meeting a 50%, twice a month quota, one that countries like Germany have employed successfully, would serve as a proper benchmark for testing and would also provide for more accurate results. 

Meanwhile, the start of the school year in New York City saw a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, despite the generally low contact rate over the summer of 2020. A collection of neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens have made up about a fourth of new COVID-19 cases, despite representing a small percentage of the entire city’s population. Fearing a 3% positivity rate (as a running seven day average), Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that he intends to close all schools automatically if we reach that 3% threshold, a decision that the governor said would have to be run by him before being put into action. With the average currently hovering around at 2.52% at the time of this article’s publication, there is cause for concern. 

While there are challenges presented in achieving optimal learning conditions for all students, it certainly is possible. “Overall, I think Bronx Science is doing an awesome job of responding to COVID-19. When students enter the building, they are of course required to have a mask on and are required to fill out the daily DOE Health Screening form, as well as have their temperature taken through a machine, before being allowed to enter further,” said Faika Tabia ’21. 

For now, the best course of action is in maintaining a healthy dialogue between city officials and the public so that together, we can drive down the COVID-19 infection rates. Doing so would mark the steps toward achieving a pre-COVID state of normal that we all long for.

“I believe that the governor is being responsible and efficient through his plan of ramping up testing for New York City schools, because the results from these tests can tell us about the current state that New York is in in terms of COVID-19 daily infection rates. It also allows the government to determine if any further measures need to be taken in order to lessen the number of cases,” said Mithila Dey ’21.

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