FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 10, 2020
Contact: Kristi Barnes | email@example.com | 646.853.4489
NYSNA Board says COVID-19 still a clear and present danger, warns of public health risks from in-person schooling
New York, NY — With COVID-19 cases spiking around the country, New York City remains the only school district, among the five largest, still planning for in-person schooling this fall. As nurses—working for months at the epicenter of the pandemic—we’ve seen firsthand how deadly this virus can be. And we do not want to see our children, other families, our teachers, and all those who work in our schools put in harm’s way.
Like other essential workers, nurses have struggled to balance the demands of our job and the needs of our families. After serving on the frontlines during the COVID-19 surge, all while navigating remote learning for our children, we understand the deep desire to return to some semblance of normalcy.
But the fact is, COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger to New Yorkers. Even the head of the federal COVID-19 Task Force, Dr. Deborah Brix, recently declared that we are in a “new phase” of this virus, telling CNN that the major threat at this moment is "not super spreading individuals, it's super spreading events and we need to stop those."
Bringing people together in enclosed spaces, without the robust public health infrastructure nurses have called for since the beginning of this pandemic, will undoubtedly increase the spread of the virus. Opening in-person schooling could easily erase the progress New York has made, and spark a resurgence of COVID-19.
We now know that adults and children transmit this virus, and that between 25 to 50 percent of those infected with the virus are asymptomatic. There is no question that reopening in-person schooling will accelerate the spread of COVID-19 and expose educators and school staff to greater risk of infection. According to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 25% of school staff are already at a high-risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19. Although the immediate health impact on children remains less severe than for adults, there is still so much we don’t know about how COVID-19 impacts our kids. It is a worrisome sign, for example, that pediatric ICU admissions have more than doubled just in the last 6 weeks.
As a union of frontline nurses, we must also speak up because New York remains unprepared for a resurgence of COVID-19. Our testing and tracing infrastructure is overstretched, with many results delayed by days or even weeks. Our hospitals are still rationing rapid testing reagents, PPE, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes because of federal shortages and persistent supply chain constraints. Frontline nurses, along with other essential workers, suffered the consequences of New York’s lack of preparation for the first COVID-19 surge. We cannot let that happen again.
Because of the grave risks, NYSNA calls on state and local officials to postpone in-person schooling for the fall, and to make the investments in public health and human services necessary so that in-person learning can happen safely.
We understand that working parents and families need support during this unprecedented time, including childcare subsidies, extended unemployment, nutritional assistance, and other social programs. Our union continues to call on Congress to pass the HEROES Act, which would provide critical aid to working class New Yorkers, as well as billions of dollars of state and local aid to help mitigate budget shortfalls and protect vital services. State and local officials must also do more to raise revenue in New York, and NYSNA supports several legislative initiatives to tax the rich, so corporations and the wealthiest New Yorkers pay their fair share.
Increased funding could help pay parents to stay home with their children and provide the technology necessary for remote learning. It would also enable more mental health and IEP support services for families with special needs. We could also invest in the staff and planning necessary to do outdoor and other safer forms of in-person instruction.
New York cannot remain a sheltered island in a national storm surge of COVID-19. Pandemics don’t work that way, especially as many New Yorkers have travelled extensively throughout the summer.
While New York City’s citywide infection rate remains low, the rates in many Black, Latinx and low-income neighborhoods are 4-5 times higher. One of the profound revelations of the COVID crisis thus far has been its impact on Black and Latinx communities, where death rates are a staggering 2-3 times that of whites overall, and a horrifying 8-10 times higher for younger Black and Latinx people. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control finds similar racial disparities also exist among children hospitalized with COVID-19. Perhaps this is why a recent national poll found Black and Latinx parents were nearly twice as likely to consider in-person schooling unsafe than white families.
Cuts to the New York City’s public sector, where people of color constitute the vast majority of the workforce and those who utilize city services, will only compound these inequities. Simply put, we cannot let reopening schools exacerbate the devastating impact of this virus and the economic collapse on New York’s communities of color.
Frontline nurses spent months fighting for proper PPE, access to testing and adequate sick leave. NYSNA stands in solidarity with educators and other school employees fighting to protect their own health and safety, as well as that of their students and families.
The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. For more information, please visit nysna.org.