ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC) — After teasing the announcement all week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has decided to keep schools closed for the remainder of the academic year due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Schools across the state have been closed since mid-March after coronavirus started making its way through the state. The governor ordered schools closed to help stop the spread of the virus, and teachers were forced to come up with plans for distance learning.
“We don’t think it’s possible to do that [reopen] in a way that will keep our children, students, educators safe so we’re going to have our schools remain closed through the end of the year,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The decisions on the education system are obviously critically important. We must protect our students.
“Given the circumstances that we’re in and the precautions that would have to be put in place to come up with a plan to reopen schools,” Gov. Cuomo said. “With all those new protocols, how do you operate schools without masks? Without gatherings? We need schools to come up with plans that bring those precautions into the class room.”
The governor says the state will be offering free mental health assistance for essential workers on the pandemic’s front lines.
“This is a terribly stressful, difficult time especially for the frontline workers, and we want them to know that we not only appreciate what they’re doing, but we’re here to support them,” Gov. Cuomo said. “So we have a special emotional support hotline for our essential workers and we’re also going to direct all insurance to waive any cost sharing copay deductible for mental health services for essential workers.”
The president of the Monroe County Superintendents Council, Thomas Putnam, said he isn’t surprised by the governor’s announcement. He said while it would’ve been great to be able to come back and finish the school year he understands this is for the best.
“My heart goes out, especially to our seniors, my heart goes out to our students that are frustrated and really enjoy school. Most students probably dream of not going to school until they really can’t, and now when I talk to kids on a regular basis they want to come back,” Putnam said.
In order to eventually come back, the Governor told schools to develop a reopening plan which will have to be approved by the state.
“The plan has to have protocols in place that incorporate everything that we are now doing in society and everything that we learned,” said Governor Cuomo.
He said schools should consider and include several items in their plans, including how to monitor the spread of COVID-19, ensure parent confidence in student safety, and offer mental health support to students. Putnam said districts will be working closely with the Department of Health to develop plans and are waiting on guidance from the state to begin.
“This is new, we’ve never done this before. We’ve never had a closure this long, ever, so this is going to be different. Hopefully we get back to normalcy, that’s what adults need, but more importantly that’s what students need especially our youngest ones,” said Putnam.
Although acknowledging the difficulties of this public health crisis, the governor says there is an opportunity to learn and grow from it.
“There will be a lot to learn from this, and we will learn, and we’ll be better for it and I believe that,” Gov. Cuomo said.
The governor also announced that in the last 24 hours, 289 New Yorkers died from COVID-19. To date, more than 18,000 lives have been lost to this pandemic statewide.
The governor thanked New Yorkers for helping slow the spread with social distancing efforts statewide.
“We were faced with a situation where the infection rate and those numbers were going straight up, that was only 30 days ago,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The cases, people coming into hospital, the infection rate, everything was going straight up. That number would have just continued to go straight up.
“New Yorkers, and all across this country, you saw those number change from that up trajectory to the downward trajectory,” Gov. Cuomo said. “That shift reduced, by 100,000, the number of New Yorkers that would have been hospitalized”
The governor continued the focus on the next steps, including reopening.
“Now that we have it basically stabilized and on the decline, the enemy is on the run the virus is reducing, let’s get more refined, more targeted,” Gov. Cuomo said.
Locally, there are now 115 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Monroe County. To date, officials report 1,414 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Monroe County, including 46 new cases since 24 hours prior.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we update this developing.