Principals will no longer be required to alert parents to new COVID-19 cases in New York City public schools, according to an email from the education department to administrators Tuesday.
The notice said the education department plans to permanently shutter the ‘Situation Room” call center on Friday. The Situation Room has been responsible for tracking and responding to COVID cases in public schools for more than two years, as part of a collaboration with the city health department. The news was first reported by Chalkbeat NY.
Principals are still asked to register positive cases in an online form tracked by the city — and parents will still be able to track COVID cases in their children’s schools through a daily map published by the education department, according to the notice.
Jenna Lyle, a spokesperson for the education department, said school leaders will receive support as needed from the school system’s 24/7 Emergency Operations Center.
“The safety and well-being of our students, staff and school communities has been and continues to be our top priority,” she said.
The decision comes as Mayor Eric Adams held his first COVID briefing in months on Tuesday, and encouraged New Yorkers to take extra precautions against a ‘tripledemic’ of viruses that are on the rise, including COVID, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus — also known as RSV. In a shift, Adams wore a face mask during the briefing, but declined to wear one at another event at Gracie Mansion later that day.
The city health department issued an advisory on Dec. 9 encouraging all residents to wear a high-quality mask in indoor and crowded outdoor settings.
“This is especially important for people who are — or are meeting – those who are at increased risk for complications from COVID, RSV, or the flu, such as those age 65 and older and people who are immunocompromised,” the advisory said. RSV is also a danger for newborns.
Parents and teachers have reported only a small portion of children and staff are wearing masks in school amid the rise in infections and ahead of the Christmas break.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration launched the Situation Room when schools were poised to reopen for hybrid learning in September 2020, part of an effort to trace COVID contacts and determine classroom and building closures. The Situation Room had a rocky rollout, with school administrators reporting long wait times before getting through to operators, and delays before receiving official letters advising their communities of positive cases.
On Tuesday, there were 1,307 new cases registered among public school staff and students on the school system’s COVID case map, a much higher tally than a month ago.
The education department’s health guidelines say students and staff who test positive for COVID must isolate for five days. They can return to school six days after a positive test if they have no symptoms or if their symptoms are improving, but are directed to wear a mask until the 10th day.
Officials are encouraging students to take COVID tests before returning to school after the holiday break on January 3.