When could upstate New York schools reopen?
FINGER LAKES--As states begin pivoting from essential-only activities due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to a phased opening plan, the common question is "when." When can we go back to work? When can we go back to school? When are sports happening again?
Unfortunately, the question of "when" might be the hardest to answer of all. The national "30 Days to Slow the Spread" ends on April 30, and a new three-phase program has been presented by The White House Coronavirus Task Force to offer guidelines for reopening.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has further said he will use a regional approach when opening New York state, but the business community heavily relies on schools. To fully function, the two need to be coordinated in any state plans according to the governor. The current pause has schools closed through May 15, however, New York leads the nation in coronavirus infections and deaths. When Gov. Cuomo spoke at a press briefing on Sunday, April 26, he mentioned his concern if areas begin to open near large infection areas there is a great chance of a resurgence, as people will travel from closed locations to open ones such as beaches. This could reverse many of the positive recent statistics such as a lower daily death rate and decreased hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
The federal phased opening plan features four components. These include meeting a gating criteria, and then three follow-up phases.
In the gating stage there is an expectation of "downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period," and "downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period." There needs to be a "downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period," or "downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests)." Hospitals must "treat all patients without crisis care," and "robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing." There is a caveat also stating, "state and local officials may need to tailor the application of these criteria to local circumstances (e.g., metropolitan areas that have suffered severe COVID outbreaks, rural and suburban areas where outbreaks have not occurred or have been mild). Additionally, where appropriate, Governors should work on a regional basis to satisfy these criteria and to progress through the phases..."
Phase one begins when the criteria described above have been accomplished. At that point, the guidance adjusts to only include vulnerable individuals sheltering in place, maximizing physical distance from others when in public, avoiding socializing in groups larger than 10 and minimizing travel. Teleworking is encouraged and social distancing is required. Schools remain closed in phase one.
Phase two allows non-essential travel to resume, schools to reopen and other closer-contact public areas to operate in a more limited way.
Phase three includes most activities back to normal, however vulnerable individuals would still limit their exposure to certain social settings.
On Sunday, April 26, Gov. Cuomo explained in New York everything will remain on pause until May 15, but regions could be ready for phase one at that time. In a follow-up email, he said, "phase one will be to reopen low-risk construction and manufacturing businesses in parts of the state that have experienced a 14-day decline in the hospitalization rate." Cuomo added, "Phase two will open certain industries based on priority and risk level. (Businesses considered "more essential" with inherent low risks of infection in the workplace and to the customer will be prioritized.) Officials are closely monitoring the hospitalization rate, the infection rate, and other key health indicators, and will make adjustments to the plan based on this crucial data."
The governor also stated there will be a two-week waiting period in-between phases so health officials can monitor the effect.
While this could theoretically mean school would come back in upstate on or around June 1 if current trends continue, looking at other states gives less hope of in-person classes before summer.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott have also followed suit. New Jersey is still aligned with New York (through May 15) as is Delaware. Connecticut schools are closed through at least May 20.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted weeks ago schools would not open, however, Gov. Cuomo rebuked his authority to make that call. Cuomo indicated Tuesday, April 28, he would make a determination this week.
Monday, April 27, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) announced the cancellation of the 2020 spring state championship events for New York. The impacted events are boys and girls track and field, boys tennis, softball, baseball, golf and both boys and girls lacrosse state championships.
As of Monday, the spring regular season remains on hold for nine of the 11 Sections; Section VIII and XI (Long Island) officially canceled all spring events last week. Individual sections have the authority to decide whether to hold regular season contests, however school must be in session for that to occur.