Teachers From The School With One Of The First COVID-19 Cases Ring Alarm Bells On How Poorly Protocols Work

Teachers From The School With One Of The First COVID-19 Cases Ring Alarm Bells On How Poorly Protocols Work
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

Teachers from MS88, one of two Brooklyn Schools schools (PS 1 is the other) where positive cases of COVID – 19 were reported among staff on the second day of school have posted an open letter highlighting just how unprepared the city is for reopening the schools despite what the officials may be saying in their daily press briefings.

“The city has failed us and, in turn, the public. What happened to us is a dress rehearsal for disaster for our school communities,” they write, joining in the call to delay reopening of in person instruction.

Teachers say they received an email from the Department of Education at 3:30 am on Labor Day, September 7th “encouraging all staff to get tested for COVID-19 before their first day returning to DOE buildings.” Many went ahead and got tested and reported to their school the next day for the first day of the 2020/21 school year.

On Wednesday afternoon they were informed via email of the positive case among them, teachers say. “A DOE spokesman reported to Gothamist that we were alerted immediately after the results were reported: this is not true.”

The teacher who tested positive chose to report their case to the entire staff at a meeting later that day, allowing other staff members to identify who was at-risk from close contact. There has been no contact from the city – contact tracers or otherwise  – since the case was reported, teachers write:

“Today at 6:30 am — less than 24 hours after learning we had a positive case — we received an email stating that the investigation was concluded, the building is safe, and we should report back to work in person immediately. It quickly became evident that despite the assurance that rigorous contact tracing was completed, we know this to be false. It has now been more than 36 hours since our coworker reported her positive test result, and at least 2 of the teachers who were in close contact with her have still received no communication from contact tracers or city officials.  Staff are still in the process of self-reporting contact with the individual who has tested positive, and have taken it upon themselves to quarantine, despite lack of guidance from the city.”

Many NY Health and Hospital testing sites seemed unaware of the requirement for expedited testing for school staff.

“Some staff members were told it meant you got to skip the line; others were told that the sites simply were not designated for DOE employees. It has been left up to the discretion of staff to get tested and ultimately to report positive results to school principals, meaning that there are probably many COVID-positive teachers in our school sites,” teachers write, blasting safety documents as “works-in-progress, often contradictory, and are fundamentally disconnected from reality.”

“We know that reopening schools under current DOE protocols and practices (or the lack thereof) will once again set up our most vulnerable communities to experience grief and loss. The majority of our students at M.S. 88 live in neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, and have followed protocols to protect their loved ones from future devastation. We do not want to see our kids battle a resurgence which will impact their communities most.”

Alex Zimmerman of Chalkbeat asked the Mayor at his press conference earlier today what the total is now in terms of the number of schools that have at least one confirmed case, and what the plan was to release this information publicly gone forward.

Mayor said: “Alex, obviously school hasn’t begun yet.”

“We’re going to find out each day when there’s new cases and take appropriate action, including testing trace activity, but we’ve said very clearly once school begins, there is a regular process for updating the public on what’s happening in each school. That’s been delineated previously, if it’s a specific classroom that has to be shut down or even something bigger, we’ll report that daily.

Zimmerman objected: “But I mean, there are teachers and schools now, so it does seem important to know like what the city’s plan is to release this information publicly given that the city is confirming some cases, and just a follow-up to that is you know, I’m just curious, what the process is here in terms of being notified of positive cases. Is it up to the person who tests positive to tell their principal? What if they don’t do that? What is the – how is the city supposed to be made aware of these cases in the first place?”

Mayor: “I’ll start and Dr. Choksi can add. Obviously it’s a combination, the individual gets directly notified but we have a protocol to make sure that we can tell when there’s a case in the school and act on it. Go ahead, doctor.”

Commissioner Chokshi: “Yes, sir. That’s right. We have multiple information streams. Certainly, you know, if, if someone self reports, that’s something that we’ll take into our system. We have other ways of finding out about positive cases, positive test results because all of those get reported to the Health Department as well. So we take those multiple information streams and we move as quickly as possible based on that information to start with the investigations and the contact tracing after that.”

Given that neither of them could or would report the numbers is concerning and bring into question whether the protocols they have, are actually working as they should.