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City Launches Special Team to Address COVID-19 Cases at Public Schools

A teacher at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday (Google Maps)

Sept. 15, 2020 By Allie Griffin

New York City launches a special multi-agency team to address COVID-19 cases at city schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

De Blasio unveiled the “DOE COVID Response Situation Room” that brings together the Department of Education, the Department of Health and the Test & Trace Corps to create a coordinated and rapid response to positive coronavirus cases in city public schools.

The effort provides a streamlined process for COVID-19 reporting and tracing within schools. The Situation Room will have a dedicated hotline for school principals, so they have a single point-of-contact with the city’s testing and contact tracing agencies.

“Our principals will now have a one-stop shop to raise concerns and receive rapid, coordinated responses that put the health and safety of our school communities first,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said.

The announcement came after teachers at a Jackson Heights public school criticized the city’s slow response to a staffer testing positive for coronavirus Thursday. The I.S. 230 teachers refused to work inside the school building on Friday, since the teacher’s close contacts had yet to be called by the city’s Test & Trace Corps.

The teacher is one of 55 schools staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 out of roughly 17,000 staffers tested. The numbers put the positivity rate among school staff citywide to .32 percent, de Blasio said.

De Blasio praised the low positivity rate.

“That tells us how much all the efforts to fight back this disease are working, and it tells us that the folks who work in our school system have been really careful and diligent, and so few have ended up with a positive case,” he said during a morning press briefing.

He said that the .32 percent positivity rate could remain consistent as some staff members as well as students will contract COVID-19, which he called “an obvious reality.”

“Some people will test positive and those folks will immediately get support,” de Blasio said.

Beginning today, school administrators can call the Situation Room if they are notified that a staffer, student or family member has tested positive for the virus or if a student or staff member is sent home with symptoms. They can also contact the Situation Room for questions and concerns related to the city’s response to a suspected or confirmed case.

When a principal or school leader reports a possible case to the Situation Room, the Health Department will verify the case and trigger a Test & Trace investigation if warranted. The team will respond to reported cases within three hours, with documented cases being confirmed as quickly as 15 minutes, according to City Hall.

The Situation Room is open Monday through Friday, from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Individual schools will notify all students and families within the school anytime a COVID-19 case is laboratory-confirmed. The schools will detail what next steps will be taken, such as who will need to quarantine or if the school will be temporarily shuttered.

Public school employees and students also have access to free priority coronavirus testing with results in 48 hours at 22 city-run locations. Queens teachers and students can access the priority testing at Elmhurst Hospital, Queens Hospital and Gotham Health: Woodside.

“All you got to do is say you work for the public schools or you’re a public school student, and you get priority results [that] come back within 48 hours,” de Blasio said.

Separately, de Blasio announced the the DOE will immediately deploy 2,000 additional educators to public schools citywide as schools prepare to open on Sept. 21 for a mix of in-person and remote learning.

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