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EDITORIAL: New York City public schools made right call on remote education

As the second wave of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases begins, schools must prioritize the health and wellness of their students. New York City did so by transitioning to fully remote schooling.  – Photo by Needpix

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact the livelihoods of people across the nation, cities enact precautionary measures to save as many people as possible. It was announced on Wednesday that New York City’s schools would shut down.

Although regarded as a setback for New York City, a city which still has not completely recovered from being the pandemic’s epicenter in the spring, the decision was made because the city reached a three percent test positivity rate.

Over the summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-N.Y.) specified that the school system would automatically transition into remote instruction if three percent of COVID-19 tests done in the city were positive (this is measured over a seven-day rolling average). In October, New York City reopened schools after months of mask mandates. It was the first major city in the U.S. to reopen all of its schools. 

New York is not alone in instituting these changes. New Jersey has dialed back on school openings in recent weeks as well, but most are still offering some sort of in-person instruction in a hybrid approach.

“As of right now, 99 districts are offering in-person instruction, 529 districts are offering hybrid instruction and 145 districts are operating in a fully remote setting,” reports The Daily Targum. For the most part, New Jersey is not following New York City’s lead. The data may support this line of decisions, but the unknowns do not. The future may be grim for our state.

Schools are not currently known to be extreme zones of virus transmission. Even though the transmission rates of New York City schools had a low positive rate of 0.19 percent (among more than 120,000 people tested), the decision was based on rampant community spread, according to Time Magazine.

Signaling the second wave of COVID-19 cases, the decision made by de Blasio exercised the right amount of caution in order to stop the spread before it becomes uncontrollable. 

In a press conference on Wednesday, de Blasio said, “As a result, we do need to close our schools for the coming days. No one is happy about this decision … But we set a very clear standard, and we need to stick to that standard,” according to Time Magazine. de Blasio assured the public of his intent to return to in-person school as soon as possible. 

It is commonly believed that children are not as impacted by COVID-19 as adults. In fact, children younger than 18 years of age only make up approximately 8.5 percent of reported cases. Of these cases, the disease appears milder, and the number of deaths is smaller when compared to other age groups. 

Although the situation seems less dangerous for children, more expansive testing is required to understand how COVID-19 impacts babies, toddlers, small children, preteens, teens and young adults differently. Moreover, there are critical cases of COVID-19 impacting young adults, and students with pre-existing health conditions are at risk. 

Dr. Leana Wen, a former health commissioner of Baltimore, said that there are many children that have not been tested. Wen stated that it is “quite possible that we’re missing many cases of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children … Now that we’re doing more community testing, we’re seeing higher proportions of children who are infected.” 

Furthermore, a recently observed complication in children makes COVID-19 exposure far more serious. Doctors first believed that the symptoms of this disease were similar to inflammatory symptoms, like those exhibited by Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. Now called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), it is known that this disease can lead to severe, life-threatening problems with the heart and other organs.  

Since the medical community is still trying to understand this disease, doctors do not yet know what causes it and why children are the only ones getting infected. Because we will not know the long term effects of COVID-19 for years, sending students back into school right before flu season would be irresponsible and unsafe. 

Significant changes will have to be made to accommodate fully remote or hybrid models of learning, but the challenges faced in pursuing these models are a small price to pay for the health and safety of America’s next generation. 

Closely monitoring the situation in New York City is important for individuals in New Jersey, as the actions of a major city can serve as a potential signal for the surrounding areas. When considering the situation of New Jersey schools, it is evident that children should only be encouraged to return to school if the community which surrounds it is not collapsing from the weight of COVID-19’s effects.

Let this be a warning to those who are not taking this pandemic seriously enough. If you have not been following restrictions, know that your actions are critical for ensuring the safety and security of your community.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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