New York City Looks to Test More and Keep Classrooms Open

The city said it would allow students who were exposed to Covid to remain in school if they test negative for the coronavirus and have no symptoms.,

The city said it would allow students who were exposed to Covid to remain in school if they test negative for the coronavirus and have no symptoms.

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, and today we’ll look at a new city policy to keep classrooms open by ramping up the amount of testing. We’ll also look at how even though traffic on streets and freeways dropped during the pandemic, it is back, especially outside of Manhattan — and it is probably only going to get worse.

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Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

There may have been a period of the pandemic when a surge in virus cases would have forced schools and entire districts to close and shift to remote learning. But in New York City, even as the Omicron variant has led to a spike in cases — the most recent figures showed the seven-day average test positivity rate was nearly 20 percent — officials are fighting to keep classrooms open.

The city said on Tuesday that it would eliminate its current policy of quarantining entire classrooms exposed to Covid, and would instead allow students who test negative and do not have symptoms to remain in school. The new policy, which takes effect Jan. 3 when students return from winter break, was announced at a joint news conference on Tuesday with Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor-elect Eric Adams.

[New York City’s Schools Will Ramp Up Testing to Limit Classroom Closures]

The city will provide students with rapid at-home tests to take if someone in their classroom tests positive.

If the students do not have symptoms and test negative, they will be allowed to return the next day. They will then be given a second at-home test within five days of their exposure. Students or parents will self-report test results to schools.

Those who test positive will have to quarantine for 10 days.

The city’s previous policy was to quarantine unvaccinated close contacts of infected students for 10 days. Fewer than half of all city children aged 5 to 17 are fully vaccinated.

That led to a lot of disruptions. More than 400 classrooms were fully closed at the end of last week because of positive cases. Seventeen of the city’s roughly 1,600 schools closed temporarily during the fall semester, with more than half of the closures taking place during its final two weeks.

And the numbers indicated that the virus wasn’t spreading in schools, officials said. Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said that even if virus rates continued to rise, “we estimate that in schools about 98 percent of close contacts do not end up developing Covid-19.”

Also, there are serious concerns about the effect of remote learning on students’ academic progress and emotional well-being. Hochul on Tuesday called remote learning a “failed experiment.”

States including Illinois, Kansas, California and Massachusetts have sought to limit disruption and prevent outbreaks by increasing testing. That model, known as “test to stay,” was endorsed by the C.D.C. earlier this month. The United Kingdom has also loosened quarantine rules for exposed students.

In the Granite School District near Salt Lake City, which has about 90 schools and 63,000 students, the test-to-stay program has worked well, according to the district’s spokesman, Ben Horsley. It is now being adopted across Utah.

“You’d be in a situation, you might have 1,800 students in a high school and all 1,800 would be dismissed once the case count reached a certain threshold,” Mr. Horsley said. “As you can imagine, sending everybody home when only 10 to 12 other kids might be sick seemed pretty ridiculous.”

The new plan could require a lot more testing. Hochul said Monday that she would send one million rapid at-home test kits, each containing two tests, to New York City schools. The city expects to have roughly six million rapid tests on hand by the time school starts.

The school system has been conducting surveillance P.C.R. testing of random groups of students, aimed at catching positive cases before they turn into outbreaks. But following intense criticism that the city was conducting far too few tests, it plans to ramp up testing from 10 percent of consenting students in each school each week to 20 percent.

There are fears the plan won’t go far enough.

Dr. Michael Mina, a former Harvard University epidemiologist and expert on rapid tests, said that by testing children only twice a week in classrooms where an infection was detected, “you’re very likely to miss when someone becomes infectious and potentially becomes a superspreader.”

“This virus goes from zero to a hundred easily in a day or maybe two days,” he said.


Weather

Expect a chance of rain in the early morning, New York, then again in the wee hours. A cloudy sky and temps in the mid-40s persist during the day and the evening.

alternate-side parking

In effect until Friday (New Year’s Eve).



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Credit…Yuvraj Khanna for The New York Times

In the early days of the pandemic, when people were grasping for silver linings, many would point to the reduction in traffic. Streets, long clogged by cars or trucks, were repurposed for other activities, like impromptu sports and parties. Fewer vehicles meant less pollution. Instead of spending hours on congested roads, people could be more productive at work or spend time with their family.

But now, a new reality has set in: traffic in New York City is back, it is bad and it is likely going to get worse.

New York City topped a 2021 scorecard of the country’s most congested urban areas, with drivers losing an average of 102 hours annually to congestion, almost three times the national average, according to INRIX, an analytics company. City officials have revived gridlock alert days to warn people to avoid certain parts of the city and use public transit instead.

At major crossings to New York from New Jersey — including the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels — vehicle traffic has reached 99 percent of prepandemic levels with 10.4 million vehicles in October, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The increase in traffic has been attributed to a few different things. The pandemic has prompted people to avoid public transit and car pooling, people are increasingly buying cars and there are more delivery trucks on the streets trying to keep up with an e-commerce boom.

The traffic has been particularly notable outside of Manhattan.

The city’s most congested artery has become the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, where since 2019 the average travel speed has dropped during the morning rush by 19 percent to 21.5 miles per hour, according to INRIX. Average traffic speeds have fallen on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, the Long Island Expressway and Grand Central Parkway in Queens and on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

A half-dozen neighborhoods had more vehicle trips in September and October than in the same period in 2019, according to StreetLight Data, an analytics company. In St. Albans, Queens, vehicle trips rose 4.8 percent, followed by North Bushwick in Brooklyn at 4.6 percent and Bronxdale in the Bronx at 4.3 percent.

It has been predictably frustrating for drivers and bus riders.

Dharminder Singh’s commute from Long Island to job sites in Manhattan and the Bronx, where he works in construction, used to take about an hour and a half. Now, he says his commute is closer to three hours.

“Never, never, never in my life — not even during Christmastime before — have I ever seen traffic this bad,” Singh said.



METROPOLITAN diary

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A tale of two hot dog vendors claims the top spot in this year’s best Metropolitan Diary item, outpolling four other favorites. Here is one of the finalists.

Dear Diary:

It was some years ago, and we had four front-row, center-balcony seats for a Metropolitan Opera performance of “Othello.” A young couple who weren’t familiar with the opera accepted an invitation to join us.

During the taxi ride from the restaurant where we had dinner to Lincoln Center, we unraveled the plot for our companions. With four passengers in the cab, I sat in the front seat and narrated to the rear.

The cab’s arrival at the Met coincided with my recounting of Iago’s plot of the concealed handkerchief. I tried to hand the fare to the driver as we prepared to get out. He stopped me.

“No one is leaving until I hear the end,” he said.

— Vern Schramm

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.


Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — M.Z.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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