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Big city, big worry: Pressure mounting to close NYC schools

Coronavirus

A commuter wears a face mask while riding the a nearly empty subway car into Brooklyn, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in New York. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he will announce new restrictions on gatherings to halt the spread of the new coronavirus in the coming days, but he hopes to avoid closing all public events such as Broadway shows. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — The coronavirus sapped New York City of its famous hustle and bustle Friday, with no Broadway, no basketball games, no big gatherings, a populace unnerved by an ever-worsening crisis and mounting pressure to close down public schools.

A dizzying series of temporary coronavirus-related closures announced Thursday included some of the city’s cultural jewels: the Metropolitan Opera, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Hall.

It wasn’t just high culture. The St. Patrick’s Day parade will not step off next week. Concerts were canceled. NBA games were scuttled. CBS News, which temporarily shut down its city headquarters Wednesday after two employees tested positive, continued to air its local Thursday night broadcast — from Los Angeles.

Restaurants, subway cars and sidewalks were noticeably emptier. Without a flake of snow, the city began to take on the thinned-out look it gets after winter blizzards, with people telecommuting to work or avoiding public places. Colleges across the city were closed or having students attend class online.

“People are scared to come outside,” said Justin Rahim, a tour guide at Manhattan’s Central Park, who said several of his pedicab drivers — reliant on tourists for their living — quit Thursday to drive for Uber’s food delivery service. “It’s crazy. How am I going to survive this?”

Parents citywide fretted about whether the public school system, with its 1.2 million pupils, might be shut down, as happened in nearby New Rochelle, a suburb that has been a focus of the outbreak in the U.S.

“It is time to close our public schools. This isn’t an easy decision, but we must take aggressive measures to stop the spread of #COVID19,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted Friday. “Teaching and learning can not take place under these circumstances for the safety and well being of the teachers and students.”

The virus, as of Thursday afternoon, had been confirmed in more than 320 people in New York state, including 95 in the city, and had caused one death in the metropolitan area. The number of illnesses may be higher because of a shortage of test kits. The state on Friday opened a drive-through testing center in New Rochelle.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading, gatherings with more than 500 people would temporarily be banned in the state, starting in most places at 5 p.m. Friday, though evening shows on Broadway were called off a day sooner.

“I think we’re looking at a matter of months,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Friday. “I think this could be 6-7-8-9 month affair. … This is not going to be over in 30 days; this is not going to be over in a couple of weeks.”

Many gatherings in smaller event spaces would have to cut capacity in half.

The restrictions, imposed by an emergency order, don’t apply to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, shopping malls and mass transit, and there were exceptions for other types of businesses, like casino floors.

People are also still free to go to work, and Mayor Bill de Blasio counseled against giving up.

“The city has to keep going,” de Blasio said Friday on Fox 5. “We need people to have their livelihoods. We need folks to show up at work. We need our public servants to be where we need them to be to take care of folks — hospitals, schools, first responders.”

Yet it was clear the slowdown would be painful for a city that relies on the economic engines of tourism, entertainment and Wall Street.

Restaurants and nightspots are reporting drop-offs of 20%-80% over the past week, particularly around touristy Times Square, said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

At the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, security officers reported some of the sparsest crowds they’ve seen as they prepared to shutter Friday.

The coronavirus dominated conversation, even in parks where joggers were intent on maintaining some normalcy.

Danielle Xuereb, 38, of Manhattan, had been preparing to run a half-marathon but learned it was canceled. She said she’s been working from home and expected to continue to low for a week or two, maybe skipping her normal yoga classes.

“I guess my main concern,” Xuereb said, “is how long this will all last.”

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