Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave New York schools the green light Friday to reopen classrooms in the fall.
Cuomo’s announcement ended weeks of speculation about whether New York would follow others in delaying in-person education -- and as the number of new coronavirus cases continued to tick down in a state that was once the nation's pandemic hot spot.
“We are probably in the best situation in the country right now," Cuomo said on a call with reporters. "If anybody can open schools, we can open schools and that’s true for every region in the state."
But Cuomo’s announcement is not likely to be the last word on this contentious issue. There continues to be stiff opposition from teachers and parents to resuming in-class education, especially in New York City which has the nation’s biggest public school system with more than 1.1 million students.
“If the teachers don’t come back, then you can’t really open the schools,” Cuomo said. “If the parents don’t send their students, then you’re not really opening the schools.”
Cuomo's directive leaves it up to local politicians and superintendents to decide whether and how to reopen. And while Cuomo said schools can reopen if they are in a region where the average rate of positive coronavirus tests is below 5 percent, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would only open the city's schools if the rate was below 3 percent.
Still, New York City education officials have already submitted for approval by state health officials a 32-page plan for reopening schools, according to media reports. Among other things, it calls for having students come back in shifts to keep the classroom numbers down.
School districts in other cities like Chicago have dropped plans to return children to classrooms in September and will instead rely on remote education. But across the country, it was full steam ahead for in-classroom learning in some school districts and not all were requiring students to wear masks or maintain social distancing as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
In Checotah, Oklahoma, where schools are reopening next week, worried teacher Lawrence E. "Train" Lane told NBC News he will be offering extra credit to students who show up for class wearing masks. They're not required to do so.
New York, as of Friday, has reported 425,047 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 33,566 deaths. Most of the fatalities occurred during the spring when the pandemic was hitting the Northeast the hardest. And the plague hit Black and Latino communities especially hard.
While the number of new cases in New York has been trending downward of late, there has been an uptick in new infections in the surrounding states, according to the latest NBC News analysis.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has suspended plans to further reopen his state, cut the number of attendees allowed at outdoor gatherings from 100 to 50, and is cracking down on "bars masquerading as restaurants."
"Bars are closed in Massachusetts," Baker said.
Meanwhile, the national death toll from COVID-19 climbed above 160,000 on Thursday and the U.S. was closing in on 5 million confirmed cases -- the most in the world. And a new new model from the respected University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is projecting that the death toll from coronavirus in the U.S. could reach 300,000 by December.
Most of the new Covid cases have been in the Southern and in the Sun Belt states that began reopening just as the coronavirus was starting to crest. On Friday, Virginia recorded a single-day record 2,105 cases, NBC News figures show.
Other national developments:
- The recovery from the pandemic appeared to be flagging as the U.S. economy added 1.76 million jobs in July, down from the 4.8 million jobs that were restored in June, according to the latest federal Bureau of Labor statistics. Also, the unemployment rate ticked down from 11.1 percent to 10.2 percent. President Donald Trump quickly tweeted out “Great Jobs Numbers!” But experts said the new numbers were worrisome. “We are seeing evidence that the economic recovery is losing steam,” said Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor. “It’s not reversing, but it looks like growth is flattening out.” More than 23 million jobs were lost when the pandemic hit, wrecking the robust economy that Trump inherited from the Obama Administration. Some 16.3 million Americans are still out of work, the newest figures show.
- New studies this week by the CDC and by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have provided more evidence that wearing face coverings can slow the spread of the coronavirus. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield said. “All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.” Experts say the main reason for the recent rise in COVID-19 cases has been the refusal –- mostly by quarantine-weary young people -- to wear masks and practice social distancing. Trump helped politicize the issue by initially refusing at first to wear a mask in public. He was wearing one when he toured an Ohio factory on Thursday.
- Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker put some teeth into the state’s mask and social distancing requirements by warning that businesses, schools, child services and other entities could face fines of $2,000 or more if they don’t enforce the rules. "As I’ve visited with and listened to mayors and health departments all across our state, it’s clear there is still an even greater need to get people to wear masks -– especially to protect frontline workers, whether they’re at the front of a store asking you to put on your mask or whether they’re responding to 911 calls to save those in distress,” Pritzker said in a statement.“These rules will help ensure that the minority of people who refuse to act responsibly won’t take our state backward.” Pritzker’s announcement came a day after the state reported a sharp increase in new cases, mostly in rural and suburban areas that have been more resistant to wearing masks.
- The pandemic has dimmed the lights on Broadway until at least January, leaving thousands of actors, stage hands and others without a way to make a living and delivering a body blow to an industry that last year contributed more than $14.7 billion to New York City's economy and supported 96,900 local jobs. "I've watched the industry slowly disappear," actor Arturo Luís Soria told NBC News. "I want to be hopeful, but my gut feeling is that theater will be closed longer than we think."