NEW YORK — School districts must come up with a plan to safely resume in-person classroom instruction in case New York officials decide to reopen schools and universities amid the COVID-19 pandemic this fall, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.
The state directed New York’s 713 public school districts to devise a plan for students, faculty and staff to safely reopen and return to the classroom setting. Gov. Cuomo and his top aides have not decided when, or if, New York schools and universities will reopen this fall outside online learning models.
“We obviously would very much like to,” Gov. Cuomo said during a pandemic briefing Monday in his Manhattan office. “We’re not going to say children should go back to school until we know it’s safe. We have some time. This is a very fluid situation.” Districts must come up with a plan to reopen in the meantime, Gov. Cuomo said, in case New York’s COVID-19 numbers remain low and the decision is feasible later this summer.
Health officials are less concerned about coronavirus transmission on surfaces and said the disease is primarily airborne and transmitted from respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, Gov. Cuomo said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance in late May that the droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people or possibly be inhaled.
Initially, health experts expressed concern that the virus survives on all types of hard surfaces for more than nine hours. In the last two weeks, New York officials have studied High Efficiency Particulate Air filters, or HEPA filters, and their effectiveness in cleansing COVID-19 particles from the air, over concerns that air conditioning or filtration systems recirculate the virus. The state is requiring all malls, gyms and movie theaters to install HEPA filters, which have been shown to help reduce the presence of COVID-19 in air filtration or cooling systems, before they will be cleared to reopen.
“The most dense filters can actually filter out the virus,” Gov. Cuomo said Monday. “But nothing is simple with this virus. Different air conditioning systems have different capacities. It depends on the air conditioning system you have where it can take these higher filters and still operate.”
Officials continue to work to find a solution, Gov. Cuomo said, who added that their efforts are justified with increasing evidence the disease is mainly airborne.
“There’s a real possibility we could have a positive contribution here,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If there’s a way to filter COVID out of the air, then we want to do that. And if we can do that without an exorbitant expense with HVAC systems, we’re looking at that.”
The filter is a possible benefit to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but the governor said it would not be the sole factor in the state’s decision to resume gyms, malls or movie theaters in Phase IV.
New Yorkers are getting complacent in wearing face masks or coverings and social distancing as eight regions have resumed most nonessential industries, Gov. Cuomo said of recent upstate complaints. He warned residents, employers and business owners not to get arrogant as the coronavirus surges in 38 states and Puerto Rico, saying New York’s flattened COVID-19 trajectory could reverse if people are not diligent.
“An outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere — we can’t protect ourselves as an island because we’re not,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If we change what we’re doing, you’re going to change the trajectory of the virus.”
The governor criticized President Donald J. Trump for the third time in a week Monday for the nation’s failed virus recovery, saying the federal government continues to deny the severity of the virus. Gov. Cuomo railed against Mr. Trump’s incorrect claim in an Independence Day address over the weekend that the national COVID-19 spike is tied to an increase in testing.
“On that theory, let’s do no more cancer tests and that will solve the problem with cancer,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Mr. President, don’t be a co-conspirator of COVID. Denying COVID is really advancing the COVID virus. We’re not the United States of Denial. If he does not acknowledge that, then he is facilitating the virus. This is common sense.”
The governor pleaded with Mr. Trump to wear a face mask and encourage Americans to wear face coverings in public through the pandemic. In a speech before a fireworks and flyover celebration in the nation’s capital Saturday, Mr. Trump played down the deadly pandemic by claiming 99 percent of coronavirus cases are “completely harmless.”
“The president says a lot of things. He makes up facts — he makes up science,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If we do not as a nation acknowledge the COVID viral increase, it is going to continue. Those upwards numbers don’t change on their own. We know it has to be done because we lived it here.”
The Hudson Valley region, which includes Westchester and Rockland counties, will enter Phase IV of reopening Tuesday, including low-risk arts, entertainment, recreation and educational industries and facilities. Long Island is expected to resume Phase IV businesses Wednesday. New York City entered Phase III of reopening Monday with indoor dining postponed. Officials have not decided when indoor dining will resume citywide.
New York’s COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates have continued to decrease or flatten since the state started a phased reopening May 15.
The state reported nine New Yorkers died from the virus Sunday, including eight in hospitals and one in a nursing home. The state’s virus-related fatalities have remained flat for several weeks, down from 11 fatalities Friday and eight Saturday.
The state’s total virus hospitalizations decreased to 817 — the lowest since March 18, according to the governor’s office. More than 18,000 New York patients were hospitalized at the peak in April.
The state reported 518 new COVID-19 cases, or about 0.95 percent, of the 54,328 tests conducted Sunday. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a positive COVID-19 testing rate of 1.4 percent or lower.
The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.