Coronavirus Stats, Back to School Edition: Explosions in NYC Education Monitoring

The WNYC / Gothamist newsroom uses data to track the spread of COVID-19 in New York City schools. The “back to school” edition of our coronavirus data page will be updated twice per week. Here is a link to our main stats page.

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Cases In NYC And NJ Schools

The New York City Department of Education is already reporting dozens of cases on staff and a handful on students before Sept. 13, the first day for public school in the city. By the beginning of October, more than 4,000 students and staff had received a positive test. Earlier in the school year, the city amended the COVID-19 clinical trial ranged from twice per month to once per week.

Parents and health experts have expressed concerns about the city testing strategy, which allows unvaccinated children to opt out of routine tests and attend school in person. Of the approximately 550,000 eligible students, only 35%-or 192,705 children-returned testing consent forms until Oct. 6, according to data provided by the education department at WNYC / Gothamist and presented to the New York City Council.

Data for New Jersey schools is more limited: The state only reports positive COVID test results linked to county school delivery. The New Jersey Department of Health has recorded hundreds of cases in dozens of outbreaks since class began on Sept. 7.


Nearly all children under the age of 12 are undeveloped due to age restrictions, so NYC elementary schools began their year by closing the classroom for 10 days any time the a resident has tested positive for the virus.

On September 20, the education department updated its policy around quarantine. Now, undeveloped students and staff can only be repatriated if they are unmasked and less than three feet away from a positive case. They also need to be in close contact-or close to the infected student for more than 15 minutes a day.

The mayor’s office admitted the result is more children staying in class, but it also means fewer classroom closures in elementary schools going forward.

This situation mirror the original and current rules for middle school and high school. In other words, a positive test will almost certainly provoke a “partial closure of the classroom,” where only a few people-anyone who identifies or anyone who is disgruntled who does not follow the rules of mask and -distance from society – will be asked to stay at home.

Meanwhile, confirmed infections in staff who are not in the classroom will only require a “non-classroom quarantine” of the affected people.

The city health department said an entire school building would close only when there was evidence of “widespread transmission,” but it does not define publicly what it means. The decision marks a departure from the policy last year, which ordered schools to close after reporting two or four cases that could be attributed to exposure inside a building.

As of Oct. 6, 533 classrooms were partially closed and another 281 were completely closed, from nearly 58,500 classrooms in the education department building surveys. PS 79 in East Harlem, a high school that serves primarily students with disabilities, was completely shut down on Sept. 20 after it faced multiple classroom closures in the first week of school. The building reopened.

Classroom Ventilation

Most of the 58,500 classrooms have what the city describes as “operational” ventilation systems, which health experts and officials have identified as critical tools for fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite a promise that all classrooms will have enough fresh air in time for school to start, more than 1,100 classrooms are still undergoing renovations, according to data from the Department of Education. In nearly a dozen buildings, less than half of the classrooms are marked as “operational” ventilation report published by the city.

Approximately 4,000 so-called “operational” classrooms rely solely on windows for built-in ventilation, where independent health experts describe as unreliable for fresh air.

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