Original article written by Eliza Shapiro for the New York Times
New York City’s public schools have seen remarkably low virus transmission compared with the citywide rate of positive test results in the months since the nation’s largest school system reopened for thousands of students, according to a major new peer-reviewed study in the medical journal Pediatrics. Of over 200,000 people who were tested in city school buildings from October to December, only .4 percent of tests came back positive for the coronavirus. That was during a period when virus cases were spiking in the community. And even when cases were detected, relatively few close contacts in the school ended up testing positive for the virus during the same period: .5 percent of school-based contacts who quarantined contracted the virus.
“In-person learning in New York City public schools was not associated with increased prevalence or incidence overall of Covid-19 infection compared with the general community,” the study’s authors wrote. The study was led by Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior health adviser. Still, school-based testing has been random and therefore focused more on identifying asymptomatic cases, while many New Yorkers who got tested outside schools had symptoms or had been exposed to the virus.
The mayor faced significant criticism for his push to reopen schools, and there was widespread fear among families and educators that it was not yet safe to return to school buildings. But the strict safety measures the city put in place, including required masking, social distancing between students and teachers, and weekly random testing seem to have helped keep positivity rates in schools extremely low, the study said. “We’ve said that our public school buildings are some of the safest places in New York City — and we’ve got the numbers to back it up,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement on Wednesday.
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