I am perplexed as to why New York City public schools are still open.
In recent weeks, CoronaVirus, a widespread pandemic known as COVID-19 has increased its range from the Far East to the U.S., causing a public health challenge in our great City and State. As we reached 200 known cases, medical experts are learning that patients with the new CoronaVirus keep the pathogen in their respiratory tract for many weeks. According to a new study done by the Lancet Medical Journal found that the virus could remain infectious for as long as 37 days. COVID-19 has, so far, spread among 118 countries and infected about 125,000 people since first emerging in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year.
The NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons. The NCAA has decided to suspend the March Madness tournament and MLB has delayed their season opener. Many Fortune 500 Companies have mandated their employees to work from home. City and State universities are enacting “distance learning”. Both Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have postponed large scale campaign events while the Congress has given their staff the option of telecommuting.
Leadership starts at the top, and there has been a lack thereof. President Trump approved budget cuts to the CDC which caused the firing of everyone on the National Security Council’s Pandemic Response team last year affecting our response to what is now a pandemic. President Trump has also made disparaging remarks, spewing falsehoods while taking a nonchalant posture during the viral crisis. Credible, respectable, and scientific information being transmitted to the masses would have possibly saved the lives of those who have fallen due to disease and tampered down panic among investors, staving off what is now in the books as a historic plunge of our US Markets.
Governor Cuomo should be applauded for taking the reins and guiding the state through such a tumultuous time. He has among many things, directed the MTA to vigorously clean the subways, saving quite possibly 5 million daily riders from being infected. And in a move that other states might want to emulate, the Governor has directed his Department of Financial Services to require all health insurers to waive cost sharing associated with testing for the virus. Although the lack of leadership on the Federal level has hurt our national response on many fronts, that goodness we have a bold and compassionate leader here in New York that has taken decisive action to ensure the health and safety of all New Yorkers.
It’s now time for our Mayor to step up to the plate. As I pen this opinion piece, none of our New York City’s nearly 2,000 public schools have closed. The schools must close to ensure the health safety and security of our teachers and students. I’m calling on the Mayor to close all city schools as an over abundance of precaution. We can couple a school closure with the upcoming Spring Break which is slated to begin on April 9th, through the 17th. Once the schools reopen, ensure that every school is equipped with testing kits and stock them with the essential items such as hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, water, etc.
The longer public schools stay open, our students will feel pressured to attend. Most NYC Parents view education as a priority and will opt to have their children attend because of the uncertainty of their absence causing a downgrade of grade averages. Our teachers are also being neglected during this process. Teachers grapple each year to stay in our school system or seek for higher salaries elsewhere and once again are being forced to make daily sacrifices and necessary precautions.
I have walked throughout the 14th Council District in and around my Bronx neighborhood having discussions with students, teachers, clergy, parents, and seniors. Within these conversations, many agree that we should close our schools with the option of allowing cafeteria staff to remain in order to provide free take-home breakfast and lunch for all parents and children who normally rely on our schools for a meal. According to a report from Advocates for Children, one in every ten children in the city's public schools were homeless. Based on that reporting, it is most certain that with school closings, students will lose a much needed resource.
Other recommendations borne from my many conversations with residents and community advocates are as follows: First, students and teachers should be tested in our schools by the school nurse. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, it is almost certain they received it from an adult in their home. The parents or guardians of the student who tests positive should be alerted so they can seek testing themselves or make preparations for quarantine. The second recommendation is the implementation of drive-thru style testing. Drive-thru testing has already been piloted in the states of Washington, Colorado, and Connecticut. Drive-thru testing will mirror fast-food style administering of the COVID-19 tests. This style of testing, helps to eliminate and limit healthcare workers being exposed to those who have been infected. Shopping plazas and parking lots should be utilized to set up these drive-thru style testing. There is currently an overabundance of testing kits but they have not been dispersed effectively and there are not enough qualified testers to respond to the test taking and test results. Finally, my last recommendation is to consider suspending cases in non-essential and non-criminal court proceedings for 90 days. The objective is to slow down the progression of such an infectious disease to a plateau.
Please join me in demanding that the Mayor and our city office holders call on this administration to enact these recommendations. It is my hope that the New York City Council will take action if the administration fails to do so. Throughout it all, the question still remains, why are New York City Public Schools still open?
Socrates Solano is a former Aide to then US Senator Hilary Clinton and retired Rep. Charles B. Rangel. He is currently a candidate for the New York City Council in the 14th Council District of the Bronx. For more information, please visit his website: www.socratessolano.com.