The Daily - New York City’s 3 Percent Problem

This week New York City’s public schools will close their doors and students will once again undertake online instruction.The shutdown was triggered when 3 percent of coronavirus tests in the city came back positive over seven days. There are questions, however, around this number being used as a trigger — some health officials maintain that schools are safe.When is the right time for schools to reopen and what is the right threshold for closures? We explore what lessons New York City’s struggle

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Content Keywords: Bill de Blasio
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New York Times I'm likable borrow this is a daily

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today

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the story of how the nation's largest public school system defied the odds to reopen for in-person class then promptly shut down again after just eight weeks mycolic Eliza Shapiro on the lessons from New York 6.

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It's Monday, November 23rd.

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I was I wonder if you can describe for me the experience of being a New York City Public School parent or teacher or administrator over the past few weeks. So announcer the coronavirus pandemic all eyes on New York City Schools this every morning for the last few weeks in New York City hundreds of thousands of people parents teachers kids politicians have been engaged in this very intense unusual ritual of Russian. Their computers are picking up their phones every morning and frantically checking Twitter or the news to see if today was the day we were going to hit this reviled number 3% And I when we hit that schools will close but for right now they remain open me to tell me about number of 3% So 3% is the average number of coronavirus test that come back positive across New York City over a 7-Day. So once we hit that number,

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The entire school system shuts down. So no wiggle room 3% closed 5 7% of 2.6 closer to 2.83% from the New York City Department of Education is ready to go all remote one schools are closed and last Wednesday morning. We woke up and we realized that we'd hit exactly 3.00% on the.

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unfortunately as of today on our 7-Day rolling average for Coronavirus positive in New York City has hit exactly 3.0% and as a result we do need to close our schools for the coming days

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and all of a sudden hundreds of thousands of parents and Educators just kind of felt like the rug had been ripped out from under them and tell them that we are doing to our children is hot I am sick as a working mom of waiting checking Twitter to see if schools are going to be open tomorrow and how to juggle my work responsibilities until my daughter again to buff top she should be grateful for one to two days of the week

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Sweetheart. How do we get to this moment of such frustration? And how did it come to be that an entire Learning System Road on a single number like 3% How is it that we arrived at that pretty peculiar situation. Let me take you back to the summer New York City was just coming out of this unbelievably horrific traumatic Bleak. For we were Global epicenter of the virus and then all of a sudden by late June early July. I mean the city was really really turning a corner. The numbers were getting so much better and people or idling up parks and beaches and responsibly hang out outside in the city just felt like it was on the mend and so immediately people's first thought and the mayor's first thought goes to schools, you know, can we actually get this massive Public School System open in a few months in the fall if we are in fact turning a corner of the city

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New Yorkers have achieved so much together over the last few months so pretty early in the summer Mayor Bill de Blasio comes out and says I am going to do this incredibly hard thing the moral case for reopening schools case said he wanted to get the schools open he was going to get the school's up and I got to talk to him I wanted to ask him why this was so important for him why he was so intent on reopening this massive sprawling complicated school system

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Sir, I'm okay. How are you? It's nice and cool in the closet. So we met and the Northern end of the Bronx and a big empty public high school where there were a bunch of custodian sort of jamming open Windows to improve ventilation and get fresh air in Windows. It's in some cases seem to have not been open for a very long time and we kind of folded ourselves into these little desks. He's super tall. So he sort of had to squeeze himself in there. We sat 6 feet apart and I asked him, you know, tell me why this is so important to you.

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He came into office promising to be kind of the education there. He has always said that education is his top priority that reducing an equality in the public school system is his for the biggest task. He also genuinely believe that school should be off that it's not optional to them and what he said is he sort of made the case for why in person is so important and why he thought families needed the option of going back into classroom.

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he also talked about the cost of keeping schools closed I mean the vast majority of students who go to New York City public schools are low-income there are over 100,000 homeless students there are 200000 students with disabilities world I mean the scale of need in this public school system is unlike anything else in the country you might not get the health care or mental health care or dental care or laundry services in some cases that you can get in a public school system

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Schools are places where abusive spotted and without kids actually showing up to the door every day and teachers ask him what's going on at home or being able to see that something is wrong. That's a potentially dangerous situation has been here. All people is they really been in a row of the country has he's incredibly low positivity rates and he said if any place can do it were the place I can do it. I would much rather be criticized for weak fry.

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Even if it didn't work out the way we hoped then we didn't have the courage to try.

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I have a very clear plan and I'll always listen to concerns. I watch the help your situation. I'll listen to substitute issues and people raise them, but the plan is to

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so now that the mayor has laid out his argument for doing this. How does he actually start to reopen? This is so very quickly after the mayor says he wants to get school's out then it becomes clear that this is basically the hardest thing he's ever tried to do as mayor. I mean the sort of logistics of it or just dizzying the tasks are piling up day after day hours for our one of the biggest immediate tasks. Was that the mayor gave kids and families a choice of whether they wanted to come back into classrooms or not. So all of a sudden the city had to create to school systems out of 114 the kids who were going to be home and one for the kids were going to be back in the classroom at least part of the week so that they can rotate in and out for social distancing. So that's one whole logistical nightmare.

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And then there's just actually getting the school buildings ready, which is an absolutely enormous undertaking New York City has well over a thousand school buildings many of them are over a century-old. They have Windows that don't open. They have HVAC that have been broken for years. They have radiators and heating systems that maybe have never worked and you had to basically transform what New York City classrooms look like desks are space 6 feet apart. The city has to find personal protective equipment for kids and teachers and nurses and everyone in the building. They have to get you no more Clorox wipes, then you know existed masks gloves spray face Shields. I mean every piece of cleaning equipment you can think of the school's needed and they needed them really quickly because remember that he basically gave itself 2 months to pull off.

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Essentia the hardest logistical task in decades at the city has tried. So as the mayor starts going through this enormous to do list their starts to be a growing resistance against his reopening plan. If they're done many teachers saying we don't feel safe. We don't think it's right to go back into work hundred year old school building and teach kids in a mask and just hope that it's safe. We will not be an experiment. We will not die so that the economy can get back to work. So you were seeing big protest near City Hall and in lower Manhattan teachers were carrying coffin they were saying we're scared we're going to die. I mean there was this movement where teachers were changing their Twitter handles to say we won't die for the Department of

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We won't die for the City of New York.

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I believe.

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Hypatia, three days ago arrived to the ER gasping for air at 6:30 in the morning and by 6:30 at night. He was dead without family at his bedside. Oh, well, I don't want to see the teachers in that position. I don't want to see the children in that position.

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How does the mayor respond when having teachers in the streets saying they're afraid of dying in the classroom seems like a pretty important Optical of this sort of. Of resistance and protest and fear and skepticism about the reopening plan the mayor kind of has to come up with a way, Well this morning we're going to talk about the most important piece of reopening this city restarting this city and that's starting our schools up again comes out and he says, okay folks I hear you. If it doesn't say if we don't do it it's as simple as that kind of introduces this menu of safety measures.

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Basketball day, it's social distancing priority. It's having a nurse in every school building the personal protective equipment. Finally. He says we will not reopen our schools unless the city infection rate is below 3% my word that I'm going to shut down the whole school system. If we ever reach 3% positivity. This is the moment rule comes into play exactly and how does the mirror explained how he arrived at that 3% number when it's based on so at the time the number that was kind of floating around there for when your alarm Bells should start to go off and when schools and other things may not be safe is 5% of 5% a lot and I think basically part of what happened. Is that the mayor and his team looked at

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Number and they said to the city we're going to do you one better. We're going to come in below 5% as a symbol. It was a promise. It was a way of saying I'm going to set the lowest most conservative threshold that's out there and that is proof that I'm taking school safety really really seriously in this pandemic and the doubts and anxieties of these teachers of these parents combination with some other safety measures that teachers were fighting for we begin to see a way a path to reopening the deaths are being rearranged the mass and the Clorox wipes are coming in and we're so far from 3% at this point. I mean we have days are under 1% that it seems like oh we are in good shape.

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And sure enough in late September they open the doors of a school building.

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All the sudden for the first time since early March you saw kids with backpacks walking to school, but they were so clearly delighted to be there and actually for about 8 weeks. It seems to be going pretty well.

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more and more parents are coming out and saying got my kid is happier than I've been in a long time and warm or teachers including many teachers who were really really concerned about safety over the summer are saying I feel like I'm making so much progress because we're in person and yes this is not easy but something here is working and I think it was a very proud moment for the mayor but it didn't last very long after about a few weeks back in the classroom we begin to see the numbers slowly slowly slowly but steadily pick up and no longer are we having around 1% but forgetting to 1.5 and sometimes we're getting too too and then all of a sudden

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Everyone is like wait for member of the 3% things that we haven't talked about for weeks or months because the city's been doing. So well that number is kind of in our site has to be clear even is this number of the Citywide coronavirus positivity rate is starting to creep up.

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Inside the schools. Does it remain safe? Right? I mean the mayor is surprised actually pleasantly surprised by how safe the schools are one point one of his top Public Health officials said public schools are among the safest places to be in New York City snow outside of your own home, but the school system is not going to shut down because of schools safe. Once we hit 3% no matter what the entire school system is going to shut down anyway, which is exactly what happened.

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We'll be right back.

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Looking for new ways to earn cashback introducing Chase Freedom Flex earn 5% on travel purchase through Chase 3% on dining including take out 3% of drug stores and 1% and everything else you buy plus earn 5% on bonus categories, like gas stations. Learn more at chasefreedom.com bonus categories spending limits apply and you have to activate each quarter cards are issued by JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA member FDIC restrictions and limitations apply offer subject to change an editor in charge of newsletters at the New York Times a little while ago. I saw it sweet for my colleague Jodi Kantor who made this really heartfelt plea that someone needs to start a newsletter with all the information about what's going on with schools during the coronavirus pandemic and it's not often that you see a tweet you think hey, I can do something about that. So we've launched the coronavirus schools briefing and it's a newsletter that's going to try and delve into some of the really big questions that are out there. When is it safe for school to reopen? What are the drawbacks of imp?

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Listen to remote learning what kind of resources is it going to take for schools teachers and parents to pull this off. My colleague Amelia nierenberg and I are going to be riding together. We're going to send this newsletter every Monday Wednesday and Friday for as long as we need to and hopefully it will help people navigate this really difficult time. You can get it in your inbox by signing up at nytimes.com schools briefing.

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It was at this point the entire New York City public school system is virtual again. Everyone's home. Everyone's attending classes in front of a computer in your house. Right? I mean opening schools was so so challenging and here we are not two months later and closing them down is really really hard to do. I have heard just a lot of English from parents one mom who has a child with disabilities said their kid was lucky enough to go to school in person most days of the week and it had been transformational. She felt like she was seeing the kids. She knows come back to life after this. Of sort of

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Misery and frustration with remote learning there's so much frustration and so much sadness, but there's also just so much confusion. I mean, we live in a city right now where the entire public school system is closed but so much else is open that I can go to dinner tonight indoors. This is kind of cold outside but kids can go to public schools. I can go to the gym. I can get my nails done. I can go to a museum that may not last long, but for right now there's a lot you can do in New York that's open and public schools are closed that makes me curious. How are public health officials in a country reacting to the closure dates on the 3% number saying it doesn't quite make sense to them either. I mean you have doctors out. She recently it means for the most trusted person in the country on coronavirus come out and say closing schools.

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At that rate doesn't really make sense to him that the default position should be to keep the schools open. He said if you possibly can you do, you know that at least Schools elementary schools in school for younger children, they're safer than certainly the worst fears and knowing all of that and hearing doctor falchi say whatever you can do to keep the schools open you should do I mean, I think it's just added to parents frustration and rage and sort of exhaustion with this whole 3% then we're not just parents but Anthony voci himself are casting doubt on this number that everybody involved and coming up with that 3% figure needs to be asking themselves. Did that ever make sense? Was that a mistake?

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I think what this whole 3% meltdown shows us is that decision making in a pandemic especially when it comes to kids especially when it comes to school is actually never going to be based purely on the science. I mean, there is no emotion and intensity and fear rightfully these our children. These are teachers. These are precious members of our society. There is so much fear an emotion around schools that it's really really hard to make policy that doesn't have politics and PR as Park vet said it makes me wonder if the mayor himself people around him in their heart of hearts.

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Wish that they didn't have to abide by their own number here. The super central air is really frustrated and upset and sad that this day have come but I think what I'm understanding about the mayor's thinking right now is that he's thought. Oh my God, what would it mean if I actually said nevermind we have a new number now, it's 5 now its 7 whatever it is. I think there is a deep feeling in the mayor's Administration and with a Blasio himself that it would be a promise that he couldn't break. He spent all summer talk about how this was a valet. This was a symbol and what I hear them saying is and what would it say if we broke it even though a lot of people want us to break it but I think you have to remember the context in which we got to this dratted 3% number. It was a moment in which breaking a promise like this would sort of unimaginable.

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It would come off like a betrayal and I think the mayor is still feeling really nervous about that. I mean if you take us back to the field worst days of March people were begging the mayor to close the school system and he said no eye doctor, you know, I want to keep it open as long as possible and in retrospect the city kept the schools open too long, and I think there is just a lot of regret and fear and anxiety about what if we ever left the school system open even a day too long what we're seeing now is decision-making I was so much in this pandemic that is really rooted In Fear And Regret and a profound sense of responsibility of I have to find a way to keep the city safe because New York was not a safe place just a few months ago. So what exactly happens now when might New York City Public Schools reopen is it a simple request?

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When is the next time the 7-Day rolling average dips below 3% Is that the world we live in now, we wait every day and check and see if it finally dipped back below 3% I think going forward we're going to be talking a lot less about this 3% figure. We actually don't know there isn't a plan right now for what it's going to take to reopen. The mayor is a compromising making a promise that they will so we don't know what it's going to take but I think the city now has to fight its way out of being Tethered to this number that has caused so much frustration and anger and confusion. I think Bill de Blasio would in a perfect world never want to talk about 3% ever again, and I'm sure Public School parents.

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Wouldn't either right?

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I'm curious what you think. The lessons are from the New York City public school system experience for school systems around the rest of the country is the lesson.

00:25:31
Don't open until the pandemic is really over. So you don't get into this position is less than open, but don't do it with a 3% never. What's the lesson her open until we're all vaccinated is probably not going to be good enough for a lot of kids and families in America.

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And the reality is I mean we've learned this over and over in this pandemic. This is what school opening is going to look like you're going to be open for a bit and then you're going to close and there's going to be a cycle is that because there is no consistency in this moment. And that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to have kids learn in person. So it what it does mean is that you have to have a really good plan for you have to have a good entry strategy and a good exit strategy or else all of your work to get kids in there in the first place. It just doesn't mean as much anymore.

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Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you.

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right back

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Here's what else you need to know.

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Pennsylvania is it to certify president-elect Joe Biden's Victory there on Monday after the latest failure by President Trump and his lawyer to block or delay the process in court.

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A lawsuit filed by the Trump Campaign, which baselessly alleged widespread problems with mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania was dismissed on Saturday by a federal judge who said that it lacked evidence soon after Pennsylvania. Senator Pat Toomey Republican declared that Trump had quote exhausted all plausible legal options in the state and congratulated by them on his victory.

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Ant bite and will begin announcing members of his cabinet starting tomorrow putting the piece of vines transition ahead of Trumps from 4 years ago. Obviously, this is not going to be the same kind of inauguration. We've had the past interview with ABC on Sunday by incoming Chief of Staff. Ron clean said that planning for the inauguration was well underway, but acknowledged that it would be a different kind of ceremony given the pandemic. We know people want to celebrate there is something here to celebrate. We just want to try to find a way to do it as safely as possible.

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That's it for the daily Michael Barbaro.

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See you tomorrow.

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