Private schools in Brooklyn red zones permitted to reopen with stricter testing

Parents with their children staged a protest at Good Shepherd School in Brooklyn on Oct. 6, 2020 against the ordered closure of their school in the southern Brooklyn COVID-19 red zone.
File photo by Todd Maisel

Private and parochial schools in New York’s red and orange zones where COVID-19 cases have spiked or increased will be able to reopen under an agreement reached with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday.

In New York City, the agreement affects Catholic schools and yeshivas in the southern Brooklyn red zone created earlier this month to address a surge in coronavirus cases. School administrations unsuccessfully took Cuomo to court seeking an injunction against the declaration, which forced them to close the schools to in-person classes.

During a conference call with reporters on Oct. 30, Cuomo said his office had been working with the private schools in the Brooklyn red zone and other COVID-19 hot spots across New York on finding a way to reopen safely for all students and staff. He believes that they’ve found a path forward toward school reopenings with expanded and mandatory testing.

“The basic rule is, before you reopen a school, all the people who go into the school, including students, teachers and staff, will be tested,” Cuomo said. “All the students and teachers will know that everybody was tested and they’re all negative. It will also give us an idea about homes and households in the area. If a child tests positive, we can then contact trace with the family.”

Special Counsel to the Governor Beth Garvey expounded on the agreement, which requires initial testing of all students, teachers and staff members. Thereafter, the state will test 25 percent of the school population at random every week, utilizing rapid test kits to get quick results.

Any red or orange zone school with 300 or more students and staff which has a positivity rate exceeding 2 percent in New York City (or exceeding 3 percent elsewhere in New York state) would need to close the building and transition all classes to remote learning, Garvey said. Smaller schools that have 9 or more COVID-19 positive results will need to do the same.

“This would continue while the school is in the red or orange zone,” Garvey said. “If they exit to a yellow zone, the testing requirements go down to 20 percent” of the entire school population.

There are no testing requirements for any school that’s not in a red, orange or yellow zone.

Meanwhile, Cuomo reported continued low concentrations of COVID-19 cases across New York state. The statewide positivity rate, based on 146,000 test results received on Oct. 29, was 1.4 percent. In southern Brooklyn and other zones with micro-clusters of COVID-19, the positivity rate in the area was 2.7 percent, down from 3.2 percent.

The state’s 1.4 percent positivity rate on Oct. 29 was lower than every state except Maine and Vermont, Cuomo added.

Even so, 1,085 New Yorkers remain hospitalized while battling COVID-19, including 243 who are intensive care and 116 on intubation.

Twelve patients died Thursday.

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.