New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that schools and colleges across the state, the worst-hit in the United States, will remain closed for the rest of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision that will impact nearly 4.2 million students.
New York, the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, is gradually beginning to see decline in the number of daily hospitalisations, intensive care unit admissions and fatalities. The state has more than 300,000 confirmed virus cases and over 23,600 people have died so far.
"It's critical that we protect our students from this virus, and given the current circumstances we are in, we do not think it is possible to put the necessary precautions in place that would allow us to re-open schools this academic year," Cuomo said at his daily briefing on Friday.
"All schools and colleges will continue to provide distance learning, meal delivery and child care services for the remainder of the school year," the Governor said.
The academic session will go till June and schools re-open around September for the next session.
The New York state school system includes 700 public school districts, 4,800 schools, 1,800 private schools, 89 State University of New York and City University of New York campuses and 100 private campuses for a total of 4.2 million students.
Cuomo said in re-opening the schools and colleges, the authorities have to ensure that social distancing measures are practised and that the public transportation system that ferries students to and from their homes is safe for use.
"Given the circumstances we are in and the precautions that would have to be put in place to come up with a plan to reopen schools with all those new protocols: How do you operate a school that socially distances with masks, without gatherings, with a public transportation system that has a lower number of students on it? How would you get that plan up and running? We do not think it is possible to do that in a way that would keep our children, students, and educators safe. So, we are going to have the schools remain closed for the rest of the year," he said.
Cuomo is also directing all schools and colleges to create re-opening plans that re-imagine school facilities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These plans should consider how schools can monitor the spread of COVID-19, how to reinforce student safety, when and how to resume extracurricular activities, protocols for special student populations, steps to ensure students mental health, alternative academic calendars, among other considerations.
The schools will also be required to continue meal programs and child care services for essential workers. The state will make a decision about summer school programming by the end of May.
The governor confirmed 3,942 additional cases of novel coronavirus, bringing New York state's total number of confirmed cases to 3,08,314.
Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had earlier sparred over reopening of schools.
Last month, de Blasio had said the schools will remain closed for the reminder of the academic year but Cuomo had said the mayor did not get to decide when the schools would be opened.
Cuomo had said reopening schools, businesses and transportation had to be coordinated regionally because 'you can't restart the economy without fully restarting schools'.
"Am I, as I sit here, prepared to say what we'll be doing in June? No. I do not know what we will be doing in June. Nobody knows what we will be doing in June," Cuomo had said.
New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, has been seeing a decline in the number of daily hospitalisations, ICU admissions and fatalities.
Cuomo said another 289 people died in the state from the virus, the first time the state's one-day death toll fell below 300 since March 30.
"The number of deaths, 289, is lower than it has been, but still tragic and terrible," he said.
New hospitalisations for the virus remained in the mid-900s for a fourth day, a plateau that Cuomo said he found troubling.
"Right now, we're at about 1,000 new cases per day, in the 900s: 954, 933, 970, 973. That looks like the number is flattening, is plateauing at about 900, 1000 cases.
"That is still too high a number of new cases to have everyday. Not where we were, a lot better than where we were for sure, but 1,000 new cases every day is still a very high infection rate. It's still a burden on the hospital system," he said.