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New York City Public Schools To Increase COVID Testing, Relax Quarantine Rules

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City is ramping up COVID-19 testing at schools and relaxing quarantining rules.

This comes after a school had to close for a week due to a cluster of cases among staff.

Students from Public School 79 in East Harlem were asked to stay home this week after 19 cases were confirmed and another 45 people were forced to quarantine. The Department of Education said all of the cases involved staff members and were linked to an orientation event that happened before classes started, CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reported.

Classes at P.S. 79 will be virtual until Sept. 28. The DOE has ensured every student has a device and will receive grab-and-go meals.

WATCH: Mayor De Blasio's Daily COVID Briefing In NYC 

The city announced Monday it is upgrading its health and safety measures.

"We will be testing in elementary, middle and high schools. Each school, every week," Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his Monday briefing.


"You can only test those students who return their consent forms. He needs to scrap his bogus testing program and require testing in schools," said City Councilman Mark Treyger, who chairs the Education Committee.

Since the first day of school last week, nearly 600 students citywide have tested positive for COVID, along with 384 teachers, CBS2's Ali Bauman reported.

"There seems to be a lot of holes in all of the policies that are coming out, even with revisions," Manhattan middle school teacher Aixa Rodriguez said.

Treyger said on top of all of that, students medically exempt from in-person classes are being left behind.

"I am being told the volume of requests has exponentially grown across the city for these applications for children to get home instruction, but many of these kids have not gotten a day of instruction yet," Treyger said.

The DOE told CBS2, in part, it "worked with schools one on one to ensure they are following CDC guidelines while providing full-time instruction."

Bauman asked the DOE how many students are waiting for at home instruction, but did not immediately get a response.


As for COVID protocols in schools, they are a bit of a mystery to parents like Eric McLendon.

"They seem OK, but it's a little difficult, too, because we're not allowed in the schools to be able to see what's going on first hand," McLendon said.

It's hard to blame him. Photos on social media show crowded city schools, despite the Centers for Disease Control's recommendation for students to have 3 feet of social distance when possible.

"We are not even able to keep them separate," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said classrooms are too small to spread out.

"The reality is our classes are full of furniture. Even with all the stuff we dumped and we put away, we still don't have space," Rodriguez said.

So it was surprising to many that de Blasio announced Monday he will relax quarantine protocols, effective next week.

"When there is a positive test in a classroom, the unvaccinated students in that classroom will not have to quarantine if they are masked and 3-feet distanced," he said. "That will allow more kids to safely remain in the classroom."

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said there's no way to guarantee that.

"We do not have the ability to say all the children's masks were on, they were on properly, fitted properly, and everyone's been 3 feet apart the whole day. That's a fantasy if the mayor believes that's what's happening," Mulgrew said.

While some parents agreed kids should spend as much time as possible in school, others who were already feeling nervous are demanding a virtual option.

"Nobody really wants their child to be around people that have COVID-19. It's dangerous," Javier Maldonado said.

CBS2's Ali Bauman contributed to this report.

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