Cuomo says schools can open in phase four regions with 5% infection rate, outlines some operating guidelines


Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday schools will be cleared to open for the fall if in the first week of August the region is in phase four and reporting an average daily Covid-19 infection rate of 5% or lower over 14 days.

If between that week and the start of school, the regional infection rate spikes above an average of 9% over seven days, the schools can’t open, Cuomo said during a news conference streamed online.

According to the state’s early warning dashboard, the infection rate in Westchester County’s region is 0.9%.

Even with reopening cleared, school districts must still meet two sets of state operating guidelines. The first rules were written by the New York State Department of Health, while the second are under development by the Department of Education, which the governor does not control.

Under the health department regulations discussed at the press conference, screening must be in place, masks are recommended at most times, masks can be required by districts in communities with higher infection rates and there must be plans for mask breaks when students can socially distance.

In addition, Cuomo said, meals must be served in a combination of classrooms and cafeteria settings if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria, schools need to have plans for before and after care and extracurriculars must follow state procedures.

“We are hopeful that our region’s Covid-19 numbers continue to stay low so that we can safely reopen schools this fall,” said Pelham Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ. “We continue to plan for a number of scenarios for reopening school and look forward to reviewing the state’s formal guidance and regulations once they become available so that we can finalize plans for in-person learning, whether in full or in part. As always, our goal is to provide the best education possible for all students in this new environment while doing our best to keep our students and staff safe and healthy.”

Alex Wolff, spokesman for the Pelham Union Free School District, said he believed the education department was releasing its guidance Wednesday.

Cuomo attacked President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic—saying it was a scandal worse than Watergate—and the president’s ongoing calls that all public schools reopen.

“It’s like the questions of reopening the economy, it’s the same conversation,” Cuomo said. “And by the way it’s the same conversation with the President of the United States. Yeah, we saw how well that worked” in other states that are now reporting spikes in infections.

Cuomo quoted Trump on the schools: “‘Just open them open up. Don’t worry.'”

“He’s wrong on the schools reopening,” the governor said. “Everyone wants to reopen the schools. I want to open the schools.”

“We’re not going to use our children as a litmus test, and we’re not going to put our children in a place where they are unsafe.”

Cuomo pointed to “bad news” New York residents need to watch for as the schools open. Lack of compliance by New Yorkers could push up Covid-19 infections. Local governments must enforce the rules, he said.

The other threat is the coronavirus coming to New York because of “reckless reopenings, and you now have the virus out of control in other states,” which he blamed on Trump’s calls for businesses to get going in every state.