NYC to limit classroom closures, prioritize ramped-up COVID-19 testing for schools

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New York City will eliminate its current policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to the coronavirus and will instead prioritize a ramped-up testing program so that asymptomatic students testing negative for COVID-19 can remain in school, officials said on Tuesday.

The step shows health officials are increasing the focus on testing and trying to avoid long isolation periods. A day earlier, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

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President Joe Biden has pledged to ease a shortage of COVID-19 tests with the omicron variant threatening to overwhelm hospitals and stifle travel plans as it spreads across the country this holiday week.

New York’s new policy was described by Mayor Bill de Blasio as “Stay Safe, and Stay Open” and will take effect on Jan. 3. About a million students who attend New York City’s public schools are scheduled to return from holiday break on Monday.

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams, de Blasio and New York Governor Kathy Hochul made the announcements at a news conference. New York City aims to detect more infections while mitigating disruptions as officials described remote learning as “a failed experiment.”

New York City’s previous policy was to quarantine unvaccinated close contacts of infected students for 10 days.

Instead of sending classes of unvaccinated students home to learn online when a student tests positive for COVID-19, the students will be given rapid at-home tests. If they are asymptomatic and test negative, they can return the day after their first negative test.

Students will then be given a second at-home test within seven days of their exposure, according to the announcement.

The step raised some concerns among parents. One tweeted that schools should be kept remote for at least a week’s cushion following potential holiday gathering and travel exposure.

Others called for mandatory testing for all children, as well as school employees.

New York will also sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its New Year’s Eve celebration in response to a surge of new coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Separately, Biden on Tuesday revoked a proclamation put in place last month that imposed travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including South Africa, after the emergence of the omicron variant.

Read more: Biden ends COVID-related Southern Africa travel bans

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