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NYC schools to close as city reaches 3 percent test positivity threshhold

City residents have tested positive at a rate of 3 percent over the past seven days.
Students exit a school as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Brooklyn, New York
Students leave a school in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the shutdown of all in-person instruction in the country's largest school system Wednesday, citing the spread of coronavirus infections in the region.

City residents have tested positive at a rate of 3 percent over the past seven days, according to data from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, surpassing a standard set for school shutdowns.

"No one is happy about this decision," de Blasio told reporters late Wednesday afternoon. "But we set a very clear standard, and we need to stick to that standard."

Classrooms will be closed Thursday and Friday and then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, going into Thanksgiving and the following Friday — which were already scheduled to be school holidays.

"We intend to come back and come back as quickly as possible," de Blasio said. "This is a setback but a setback that we will overcome."

There was confusion throughout much of Thursday, because de Blasio's daily briefing about the pandemic was hours behind schedule.

And adding more to the uncertainty, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a frequent critic of de Blasio's — said earlier Thursday that New York City's positivity rate was about 2.5 percent.

De Blasio insisted that it's well known that City Hall and Albany, the state capital, develop their data in different manners, with the city backdating test results to the exact date they were administered, meaning that the 3 percent threshold was hit last week.

"They lead us in the same direction consistently," he said.

New York City's positivity rate was at 2.06 percent on Nov. 3, but it has been on a slow, steady rise ever since, according to city health department data.

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the positivity rate of the school population is at 0.19 percent, much lower than that of the city as a whole.

"Our schools have reopened and been remarkably safe," Carranza said.

So parents like marketing executive Noah Coslov, with a first-grade daughter in Midtown Manhattan, don't understand why campuses should shutter if their own testing rate is so much lower.

"Why are schools closing? Isn't school the safest place?" he asked Wednesday. "It's outrageous that having kids in school isn't the top priority."

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who represents city schoolteachers, supported City Hall's move.

"Now it's the job of all New Yorkers to maintain social distance, wear masks and take all other steps to substantially lower the infection rate so school buildings can re-open for in-person instruction," Mulgrew said in a statement.

The New York City Education Department serves about 1.1 million students, making it the country's largest school system. The Los Angeles Unified School District, with more than 650,000 pupils, is the second biggest.

The tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut has endured yet another Covid-19 spike in recent weeks, leading Cuomo last week to order restaurants to close in-person dining at 10 p.m.

Erik Ortiz contributed.