New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting December 14th. After being shut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th. Certain parts of Staten Island remain under a zoned shutdown.
Get answers to questions you may have with our "Ask An Epidemiologist" series, or learn more about NYC COVID-19 testing options with our explainer. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
Here's the latest:
11:46 a.m.: President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order to help K-12 schools reopen across the country during his first 100 days—one of 10 pledges anticipated to arrive on Thursday.
Biden on Schools
Factions of the teachers union in NYC have been opposed to the de Blasio administration’s current reopening protocols, due to what union activists see as inconsistent testing requirements for a portion of the students and faculty. The United Federation of Teachers, which represents 75,000 teachers and 19,000 other faculty members in NYC, supports closing schools again if positivity rates hit 9% based on state data. Currently, 3K, Pre-K, K-5, and District 75 schools are technically open for in-person instruction, though hundreds of buildings across the city are shuttered due to positive cases.
Biden has committed to overhauling the nation’s COVID-19 responses, and restoring grade schools is one of his top priorities. To do so, he’ll establish a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board to expand testing access and call on the Defense Production Act, a law that, when invoked, can use military resources to ramp up production of needed supplies during a crisis.
In another executive order, Biden will direct the Departments of Education and Health And Human Services to develop a national plan on safely reopening schools and childcare facilities, according to the White House. The federal agencies will be required to collect data to “better understand the impact of closures on students from families with low-incomes, students of color, English-language learners, students with disabilities and others,” according to information released by the White House.
The White House plans to call upon the Federal Communications Commission to expand internet options for students without broadband for remote learning, and FEMA will be directed through a presidential memorandum to reimburse schools for emergency supplies like PPE. The actions include strategies to increase the administration of vaccines as well.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a Thursday statement: “Finally, we have a president who is committed to doing what educators, parents, and students have yearned for since the first weeks of the pandemic—a real national plan to crush COVID that follows the science and secures the resources to make in-school learning safe.”
All aboard the mask train (or plane)
In another order, Biden will require people to wear masks in airports and on public transportation. Existing travel restrictions on certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, will be expanded to all international travelers. The rules will require all visitors to show they’ve tested negative for the coronavirus before their flight takes off.
The president is also calling for looking at additional public health measures for domestic travel, but it is not clear what specific measures would be up for consideration through the order.
The orders so far signify a shift from the Trump administration, which left states to determine their own patchwork of COVID response plans. Former President Donald Trump even threatened to cut funding from local governments if they did not reopen in-person learning.
WHO revival...sort of
Dr. Anthony Fauci told World Health Organization officials the U.S. would reverse the previous administration’s decision to withdraw from the global health agency. International health leaders welcomed the news, which meant that the U.S. would continue to provide funds for the organization. The U.S. was the largest backer of the World Health Organization in 2018-2019, with $893 million. Congress had renewed its budgetary pledge last year, and it was unclear if President Donald Trump could have reneged on the commitment even if he had been re-elected. The State Department, however, had broken diplomatic ties with the WHO.
“As a WHO member state, the United States will work constructively with partners to strengthen and importantly reform the WHO, to help lead the collective effort to strengthen the international COVID-19 response and address its secondary impacts on people, communities, and health systems around the world,” Fauci said in prepared remarks.
Biden will sign the orders and deliver remarks at 2 p.m. Thursday.