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Teachers Union Calls On Parents To Sign COVID Testing Consent Forms, Get Children Vaccinated As NYC Public Schools Get Set To Return

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - New York's COVID numbers continue to surge just as children prepare to return to the classroom next week.

New measures have been announced for city schools in another effort to stop the spread and keep schools open.

The new rules include an increase in COVID testing in schools, more testing options for teachers and staff, and changes to the exposure protocol.

As CBS2's John Dias reports, city leaders say schools remain some of the safest places kids can be during the pandemic. This new approach is yet again another way the city is altering the rules as the actual virus changes as well.

FIND TESTING SITES: Click here for New York City's testing site locator, including mobile sites and at-home appointments

It's a bold new strategy as kids prepare to head back to the books. Mayor Bill de Blasio says when holiday break wraps up next week, students will need a negative COVID test to stay in the classroom. It's a new way to fight back the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"We're going to double the amount of testing we do every day in our schools," de Blasio said.

COVID testing used to be limited to unvaccinated students whose parents turned in consent forms - roughly one third of the school population. Not anymore - it will expand to vaccinated students, and staff can get a test when they want.

AVOID THE LINES: Click here for NYC Health+Hospitals testing wait times

Another change?

"When there is a positive case in a classroom, every child takes home at-home test kits. Every child who tests negative comes back to school. It's as simple as that," de Blasio said.

But the teachers union is raising concerns about return to schools. The union president said many teachers are dealing with COVID. He thanked parents for their commitment to keeping kids in the classroom, but needs some help.

"Please fill out the consent form," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "We want your child vaccinated, especially our 5-11-year-olds. That number is really low."

COVID VACCINE

This comes as New York City is leading the spike in child hospitalizations nationwide, and the chair of the City Council Health Committee Mark Levine tweeted the city's positivity rate is almost 20%. That's nearly one in five New Yorkers.

Many are still struggling to get tested, waiting in lines, and turnaround times sometimes taking longer than usual.

"On the street usually we don't receive the result 3-4 days," said traveler Shabana Chaudry.

Tuesday was deja vu on Long Island where Northwell Health rolled out drive-through testing locations. The COVID positivity rate there is among the highest in the state - more than 15%. COVID hospitalizations at the state's largest health system appear to be under control.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

"We need to leave emergency departments and urgent care centers for those who need to seek medical care," said Dr. Matthew Harris of Northwell Health.

In New York City, the new testing approach in schools is made possible by the state and its commitment to help with supplies. Gov. Kathy Hochul says the state will be giving the city more than two million at-home testing kits.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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