New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is “increasingly hopeful” that the country’s largest school system will reopen its buildings in September, he said at a Tuesday press conference.
He projected growing confidence, even as a rare illness possibly related to the coronavirus began to emerge among children.
“We certainly want to make sure we come back safely. And if we’re seeing any other particular challenges to kids, we’re going to add that to our strategy,” de Blasio said. “But my bottom line is: I believe fundamentally we’ll be able to open schools in September.”
City health officials acknowledged Monday night that 15 children in New York City have been hospitalized after showing symptoms related to toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, which affects the blood vessels and can lead to heart problems. Most of the children are believed to have been affected by COVID-19: four tested positive for the disease, and six others had antibodies, indicating that they had been exposed to the virus.
Parents should watch out for symptoms of the syndrome, which include prolonged fever, a rash, abdominal pain, red eyes, swollen hands and feet, and a bright red tongue. No children in the city with the illness have died, health officials said.
“We’re not sure what to make of this yet, and as I’ve said several times in the past, we’re still learning every day about how COVID-19 behaves,” said Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner. “We want parents to pay attention so when they see these symptoms they reach out to their doctors early.”
Still, de Blasio said he is “very impressed” with the progress the city has made in curbing the outbreak. The number of people newly admitted to hospitals citywide was 75 as of Monday, a marked decrease from just a week ago, when the number hovered around 300. Among those being tested for the virus, 22% received positive results, up from 17%. The fluctuation could be the result of growing testing capacity.
The declining hospitalization figures, de Blasio said, give him “greater confidence about something that we all should be working towards, which is the reopening of school in September.” The head of the city’s teacher’s union has suggested that heading back to school may mean staggered start times and temperature checks, but de Blasio did not offer any specifics about what to expect when buildings reopen.
“We’ve got a lot to do to get to that point, where we can do that effectively and safely and smoothly. But I am getting more confident by the day,” de Blasio said.
The mayor’s comments came about a week after schools Chancellor Richard Carranza declared only 50/50 chances that buildings would reopen. They also come on the heels of dire warnings by public health officials that the virus could surge again in the fall, lingering for 18 months or longer — especially if cities and states move too hastily to lift social distancing restrictions.
School buildings have been closed since mid-March. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced campuses across the state would remain shuttered for the academic year, which runs through June 26 in the city.