NEW YORK — New York schools could reopen by region, which is a state decision, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, before announcing malls can reopen after installing a filter that will cleanse the coronavirus from the air.
The state will finalize guidance for schools by July 13. New York's 713 school districts must submit plans to the state by July 31 detailing the social distancing, reduced capacity and other precautions administrators would implement to resume in-classroom instruction in September. Officials will decide if schools will reopen this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the first week of August, or by Aug. 7.
“You could have different infection rates and a differential in how schools reopen,” Cuomo said during a pandemic briefing Wednesday in his Manhattan office. “If it’s not safe for my child, it’s not safe for your child. So, we’ll get the data and we’ll make that decision in August.”
Cuomo’s top aides and other officials have worked on potential school reopening plans for several weeks, the governor said. Empire State Development Director Jim Malatras, president of SUNY Empire College, said the submission deadline also applies to colleges, universities, charter and private schools.
“There will be variations based on location,” Malatras said.
Malls can open Friday in regions that have entered Phase IV of reopening — to date, all regions excluding New York City — if they have implemented an enhanced Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning, or HVAC, filtration system and follow proper ventilation protocols. The state is requiring malls to install filters with a high Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value rating to cleanse the COVID-19 virus particle from the air. HVAC systems will be required to include filters with a MERV rating between 11 and 13.
The state will require malls to implement strict ventilation protocols, including increasing outdoor air, increasing HVAC system run times and frequent filter checks.
County fairs are canceled statewide out of an abundance of caution to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 in New York. Gov. Cuomo announced Monday the 18-day Great New York State Fair in Syracuse is canceled this summer.
President Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding from states that do not reopen schools this fall Wednesday morning on Twitter, blasting federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s school reopening guidelines. The federal government does not have legal authority to order states to reopen schools, Gov. Cuomo said.
“Threats don’t work in life,” the governor said. “He wants the schools reopened — it’s not up to him. It’s not his legal authority, just like it was not his legal authority to say he’s going to decide when the economy reopens in this state. And this is a redux because he poses a false choice, and that he’s posed the false choice that is one of the reasons this nation is now in the situation that it’s in.
“Do you really want to disregard children’s safety? Of course open the schools, but be smart about it.”
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said Wednesday the health and safety of New York students, families, educators and staff and access to a high-quality education must be the state’s top priorities when reopening schools.
“The federal government’s demands that schools reopen without concern for health, safety and equity are simply out-of-touch,” Pallotta said in a statement. “Thankfully here in New York, we know the governor, the Regents and fellow education stakeholders are taking this seriously. Our work with them continues, and while the intricate details of reopening may be complex and differ from school district to school district, there are simple points we believe must be addressed.”
School districts must have personal protective equipment available for every student and staff member, requiring 6 feet of social distancing inside school buildings, implement cleaning and disinfecting protocols in place per recommendation of health experts, accommodations for high-risk students and staff, adequate mental health services to address the pandemic’s psychological effects.
Every student must have access to a well-rounded education, Pallotta continued, regardless of where they live in the state.
“That means core academic subjects, arts, music, social services and other school services, and the technology to access those things remotely as necessary, must be available no matter a student’s ZIP code,” he said. “We need two things to make all of this a reality. First, parents and school staff must have a seat at the table locally to work out the details that are best for their communities. We need the federal and state funding that absolutely will be necessary to do this safely and equitably. This isn’t a matter of whether we can do this right. We must.”
Cuomo continued his criticism Wednesday of the federal government and Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as the disease surges in 36 states and Puerto Rico, saying Trump’s claim that increased COVID-19 testing is causing U.S. positive cases to skyrocket. COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to increase across the nation with the positive test rate. Intensive Care Unit beds are in continuous short supply in several cities in Arizona, Florida and Texas.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model projects 45,000 more Americans will die from COVID-19 by the pandemic’s end if they do not wear masks. The IHME projection is the White House’s preferred model, and is supported by the Gates Foundation. Last month and again Wednesday, Cuomo urged Trump to declare an executive order requiring Americans to wear face masks in public.
“Follow the science; stop dividing people,” the governor said of Trump. “Inspire the nation to act as one. The decision we make determine how many people live and how many people die.”
New York — once the globe’s COVID-19 epicenter — flattened the virus trajectory statewide because the state gradually restarted its economy and mandated New Yorkers wear masks in public, the governor said. New York was the first state to mandate public face coverings when social distancing is impossible in April. Trump encouraged states to immediately reopen to restart and improve the national economy.
“We understand this because we’ve lived this already,” Cuomo said. “We know what works and what doesn’t work. We were the laboratory. We know a smart, data-driven approach worked. We’ve shown what you can do, and that is proof-positive of what works.”
Officials expanded the June 25 executive order Tuesday requiring travelers to self-quarantine for two weeks from states with high coronavirus infection rates to include Delaware, Kansas and Oklahoma, bringing the list to 19 states.
Travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from states with more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate, or a positive test rating higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day average. About 12,000 travelers enter New York from the 19 states each day, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said.
Airlines hand out state-issued forms to all passengers on flights arriving in New York explaining the mandated 14-day isolation. The forms ask where a traveler is coming from and where he or she plans to stay.
Delaware, which neighbors New Jersey, may be removed from the order, Cuomo said. Gov. John Carney, D-Del., has said the state’s rising COVID-19 transmission rate is misleading and caused by its small population size.
Long Island entered phase 4 of reopening businesses Wednesday.
The state reported 97 COVID-19 patients were intubated Wednesday — the first time virus intubations dipped below 100 statewide since March 16.
Eleven New Yorkers died from the virus Tuesday, including nine in hospitals and two in nursing homes. The state’s virus-related fatalities have remained flat for several weeks, up from 10 fatalities Monday.
“That’s good news,” Cuomo said. “The [fact] you can be in a place to lose 11 people and that’s our good news, welcome to our new reality.”
The state’s total virus hospitalizations decreased to 817. More than 18,000 New York patients were hospitalized at the peak in April.
The state reported 692 new COVID-19 cases, or about 1.2%, of the 57,585 tests conducted day. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a positive COVID-19 testing rate of 1.7% or lower.
To see where each region stands on reopening and the complete county breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths statewide, view the COVID-19 map and tracker at hudsonvalley360.com/site/covid19.html.
The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.
*Editor's note: This story corrects an earlier version that misstated the July 13 deadline for the state to release COVID-19 guidelines for schools as a deadline for districts.