Cuomo unveils plans to reopen New York schools, track visitors from coronavirus hot spots

New York schools may reopen in regions with a coronavirus infection rate of less than 5 percent, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday, along with an executive order to collect contact information on travelers from high-risk states.

The decision for individual school districts will be made between August 1 and 7, Cuomo said, hoping to bring students back to closed areas in mid-March due to the pandemic.

“Common sense and intelligence can still determine what we do, even in this crazy environment,” Cuomo told reporters. “We are not going to use our children as guinea pigs.”

A region has to be in Phase 4 of its reopening and have an infection rate of less than 5 percent on a 14-day moving average.

Schools, after a restart, will have to close if a seven-day infection rate reaches 9 percent, according to the governor.

New York City officials last week launched plans to bring students back to the nation’s largest school system this fall, but only for two to three days a week, though the governor will still have the last word on when will campuses reopen in all five boroughs.

“We are not going to use our children as litmus test,” Cuomo said. “We are not going to put children in a place where their health is in danger.”

A representative from the New York City Department of Education did not immediately respond to messages Monday seeking comment on the governor’s plans.

Kenneth R. Hamilton, superintendent of the Mount Vernon City School District outside of New York City, urged fellow educators to beware of any green light they receive from Albany.

But Hamilton recognized that keeping children away from in-person instruction could lead to “bigger gaps” between students with and without the means to learn through online classes.

“I would venture to say that I think opening fully in person is not advisable,” Hamilton said Monday. “We are preparing for a hybrid model, but I am extremely concerned with ensuring that we provide our parents with some tools and resources so as not to inadvertently perpetuate larger gaps.”

In the first wave of the pandemic in the United States, New York and its neighboring states were the most affected by COVID-19. But in the past few weeks, the Northeast has generally reduced the rate of infections and deaths.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut joined together last month to ask visitors from states considered coronavirus hotspots to remain in quarantine for 14 days.

Cuomo put a few more teeth into that standard on Monday, saying he would sign an executive order for travelers from other states to provide contact information when landing at a New York airport. Travelers who do not provide such contact information could face a $ 2,000 fine.

“None of this is nice, but we’ve been through this before,” Cuomo said.

While COVID-19’s roots go back to Wuhan, China, the disease’s most direct link to many New York victims was visitors from Europe.

“Fool me once,” Cuomo said. “We cannot be in a situation where there are people from other states in the country who bring the virus again. It is that simple.”

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