Unvaccinated and masked students no longer have to quarantine as COVID testing becomes weekly in NYC schools

After just one week of school, New York City will make a significant change to its COVID quarantine and testing policies.

Unvaccinated students who are masked and follow the social distancing guidelines of three feet will no longer have to quarantine if they are a close contact of a positive student, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. The new rule will start on Sept. 27, which is when the vaccine mandate for teachers takes effect.

COVID testing will ramp up to weekly, from bi-weekly, at all elementary, middle and high schools. Still, only 10% of unvaccinated students whose families consent to testing will get swabbed.

“That will allow more kids to safely remain in the classroom,” said de Blasio. “We looked at it in the light of the data from the first week of school and we decided to make both of these changes.”

The change in the quarantine rule reflects the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York City had started out this school year with a more conservative policy, closing entire classrooms of elementary school students for 10 days if one person tested positive for the coronavirus. A more complicated approach was taken for middle and high school: vaccinated students without symptoms would be allowed to remain in class while those who weren’t vaccinated would have to quarantine for 10 days unless they got a negative test result and could return earlier.

The plan to ramp up testing from biweekly to weekly testing comes less than 24 hours after the city’s teacher union called for more frequent testing of all students under 12 years old, who are currently ineligible to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated staff members are currently required to show proof of a negative test weekly.

In the week since school opened to nearly 1 million students, 592 students and 384 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, city data show. Those cases have resulted in 445 full classroom closures and 326 partial classroom closures, in which vaccinated students are allowed to continue learning in person even if they were exposed and as long as they are not feeling sick. There are roughly 65,000 classrooms in city-run schools and city-funded early childhood education centers.

Over the weekend, city officials shut down P.S. 79, a Manhattan school for children with disabilities, after at least 16 staff members tested positive and officials found evidence of widespread transmission in the building. It was the first full-school closure since the school year started.

The changes in quarantine rules announced Monday will likely lead to fewer quarantines, a move that is in line with federal guidance but which is also likely to draw concerns from educators and families about the risks of transmission in classrooms that are at full capacity.

This story is breaking. Please check back for updates.

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