NEW YORK — As New York City teeters on the brink of another citywide lockdown, Mayor Bill de Blasio faced further outcry Thursday over his decision to shut down the city’s public schools in the face of surging coronavirus cases here and around the country.
About a hundred parents protested outside the mayor’s daily press briefing at City Hall, joining city elected officials and advocates who have decried the city’s decision to suspend in-person learning. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo made no indication he would intervene, as restaurants, bars and gyms remain open — further angering parents who argue the city and state’s priorities are backward.
“If we’re worried about reducing community transmission, shut the bars down, close the restaurants, close the gyms, pass a stimulus bill to make sure that they stay in business but don’t close the schools,” said Reshma Saujani, an educator with a child at PS 11 in Chelsea, at the City Hall rally. “The schools should be the last to close.”
The city reached a 7-day rolling average of 3 percent on Wednesday, hitting the threshold de Blasio established in September that automatically triggers public school shutdowns.
The mayor and governor have been somewhat more united in recent days than throughout the pandemic, but different metrics kept by the state and city that can trigger further restrictions are sowing confusion and frustration.
Cuomo reiterated Thursday that he will close down restaurants and bars if the citywide, 7-day positivity rate reaches 3 percent, based on the state-mandated cluster strategy he rolled out earlier this year.
But the city and state keep different stats — according to the city health department, New York hit the 3 percent mark Wednesday. According to the state, the city is still hovering at 2.5 percent.
“I do believe more targeted responses are better,” Cuomo told reporters Thursday when asked to weigh in on de Blasio’s decision. But he also said he would leave “the discretion up to the local school districts.”
Despite the statistical lag, de Blasio said the closure of restaurants, bars and other public gatherings is imminent. New York City is expected to be an “orange zone” in the next week or two, meaning indoor dining and gyms cease operations; houses of worship are reduced to 33 percent capacity, with a maximum of 25 people; and mass indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, according to state guidelines.
“From what the governor said yesterday, and the numbers certainly reflect it, I don’t think it’s an ‘if’ the city is going into an orange zone, it’s a ‘when’ the city’s going into an orange zone,” de Blasio said. “By any normal count, just looking at the state’s own number system, we’re talking a week or two before we’re in that orange zone status. I’m sorry to say that, but that’s the blunt truth.”
Meanwhile, the mayor said the city is crafting new metrics to reopen schools, which are expected to remain closed at least through Thanksgiving.
“We are pausing. We are resetting the equation,” he told reporters. “We need to come to a new agreement with the state, with the people of this city, with parents, with all the folks who work in schools on what’s going to work for this new time. But clearly more testing is crucial, and clear standards that everyone can understand, and being really clear that we want to take the bar even higher.”
De Blasio expects to update New Yorkers in the coming days with a reopening plan, though the mayor and key members of his administration declined to provide specifics and explain whether in-person learning could resume when the citywide positivity rate is at 4 percent, for example, despite being shut down at 3 percent. The city health department did not respond to a request for clarity on the latter point.
The parents gathered outside City Hall accused the mayor of playing politics, while endangering the welfare of vulnerable communities who rely on schooling for structure, the ability of parents to go to work, and in some cases, daily meals for students.
Nobles Crawford, a state Democratic committee member who has a child at PS 158 in Washington Heights, argued union leadership refuses to meet parents and their teachers at the table to make common sense recommendations to de Blasio “who is more than happy to play politics with the governor.”
“[We’re] in the middle of some larger political game and we’re being left behind in the lurch and the people that it’s affecting most are our Black and Brown communities,” Crawford said.
The de Blasio administration settled on the 3 percent threshold after facing pressure from the United Federation of Teachers this summer, which threatened to strike if certain safety measures were not reached.
“We want to look at geographical issues. We want to look at test positivity levels. We want to look at a lot of things,” de Blasio said. “I don’t want to start surmising and throwing things out randomly.”
De Blasio said the city needs to look around the world to identify higher standards “to be absolutely certain we can keep our kids and our adults in the school system safe.”
New York City reported a 7-day rolling average Covid-19 positivity rate of 3.01 percent, de Blasio said. The city also reported 1,255 new Covid-19 cases, based on a 7-day rolling average — a statistic that “keeps growing and worries me a lot,” de Blasio said.
The city reported 115 hospital admissions, with 34.45 percent of those patients testing positive for the novel coronavirus.