New York schools can reopen in regions with less than a 5-percent coronavirus infection rate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday, along with an executive order to gather contact information on travelers from high-risk states.
"Common sense and intelligence can still determine what we do, even in this crazy environment," Cuomo told reporters. "We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs."
A region has to be in Phase 4 of its reopening and have an infection rate of less than 5-percent over a 14-day rolling average.
Schools, after a restart, will have to shut down if a seven-day infection rate hits 9 percent, according to the governor.
New York City officials last week rolled out plans to bring back students to the nation's largest school system this fall, but for only two or three days a week — though the governor will still have final say on when campuses in the five boroughs reopen.
"We are not going to use our children as a litmus test," Cuomo said. "We're not going to put children in a place where their health is in danger."
A representative for New York City's Department of Education did not immediately return messages on Monday seeking comment on the governor's plans.
Kenneth R. Hamilton, superintendent of the Mount Vernon City School District just outside of New York City, urged his fellow educators to be careful with any green light they get from Albany.
But Hamilton conceded that keeping kids away from in-person instruction could lead to "greater gaps" between students with and without the means to learn through online classes.
"I would venture to say that I think opening totally in person is ill-advised," Hamilton said Monday. "We are preparing for a hybrid model, but I am extremely concerned about ensuring that we provide our parents with some tools and resources so we are not inadvertently perpetuating greater gaps."
In the first wave of the pandemic in the United States, New York and its neighboring states were the hardest hit by COVID-19. But in recent weeks, the Northeast has generally driven down the rate of infection and deaths.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut banded together last month to ask visitors from states deemed to be coronavirus hotspots to quarantine for 14 days.
Cuomo put some more teeth in that standard on Monday, saying he'd sign an executive order for out-of-state travelers to provide contact information upon landing at a New York airport. Travelers not providing that contact information could face a fine of $2,000.
"None of this is pleasant, but we've gone through this before," Cuomo said.
"Fool me once," Cuomo said. "We can't be in a situation where we have people coming from other states in the country bringing the virus again. It is that simple."