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NYC Schools Pushing Vaccinations as Return of Classes Nears and Delta Spreads

Ruby Muse, 14, (left) got vaccinated along with her stepfather Marcus Vazquez (center), and brother, 15-year-old Logan Muse (right.)
Ruby Muse, 14, (left) got vaccinated along with her stepfather Marcus Vazquez (center), and brother, 15-year-old Logan Muse (right.)
Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat

Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter assigned some summer homework to students 12 and older on Monday: get vaccinated.

With the delta variant contributing to a recent uptick in COVID cases, city officials are doubling down on efforts to get students vaccinated in time for the Sept. 13 reopening.

Officials announced a new partnership with the city’s health department along with a $1.3 million ad campaign encouraging vaccination. The city will call every New York City family to make sure they know their vaccination options and is even offering at-home vaccination, Porter said.

Mobile vaccination sites will also be added to preseason athletic practices, back-to-school shopping malls, and other spots frequented by students.

Some students have already completed their homework assignment by taking advantage of the pop-up vaccine clinics at select schools hosting Summer Rising, the city’s free summer program.

Ruby Muse, 14, decided to get vaccinated after learning about a pop-up site at Herbert H. Lehman High School in Westchester Square, The Bronx.

“I was looking at my school website and there was a COVID-19 button. I pressed it and it said school sites are giving free vaccinations. And I went, ‘Oh I need to get vaccinated. I need to tell my family about this,’” she said last week.

‘We Played It Safe’

Ruby got vaccinated along with her 15-year-old brother, Logan. They brought their stepdad, Marcus Vazquez, to get his first dose of the vaccine, too. The siblings learned remotely last year because they were worried about the virus and said their classmates did not take precautions seriously.

Still, they hesitated to get vaccinated, fearing possible side effects, especially for Logan, who has cerebral palsy. They consulted their doctor, who encouraged them to get the shots. Now, they’re ready to return to the classroom.

“We just played it safe and stayed home. And now we’re finally getting vaccinated, and we’re planning on going to school next year,” Ruby said. “If you’re vaccinated, it just improves quality of life because you’re able to go more places and you’re not really restricted, and you’re also saving other people because COVID is obviously dangerous.”

There are only six weeks left until schools reopen to all students, leaving just one week for students to get their first dose of a two-dose shot and be fully vaccinated by the first day of school. (The single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is currently not authorized for those under 18).

Students were socially distanced during the start of the new school year at One World Middle School in the Bronx, Oct. 1, 2020.
Students are socially distanced during the start of the new school year at One World Middle School in the Bronx, Oct. 1, 2020.
Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office

So far, more than 226,000 of New York City’s 12- to 17-year-olds — roughly 43% — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and roughly 60% of education department employees have one dose of the vaccine. The vaccine is not yet eligible for children under the age of 12.

The city’s efforts to encourage vaccination so far seem to be helping increase vaccination rates.

On Friday, the city started incentivizing vaccination by offering $100 to anyone who got their shot at a city-run site.

Traffic doubled at city-run vaccination sites on Saturday, and more than 8,000 New Yorkers have received their $100, the mayor said. To encourage student vaccinations, officials created a PTA vaccine referral program: Parent leaders will receive $100 for every person they refer for their first shot.

Masks, Air Purifiers on Tap

While the city is ramping up vaccination efforts, they are also leaning on other tools to mitigate or protect against the virus, including mandating masking in schools and improving ventilation in classrooms by bringing two air purifiers to each classroom.

City officials also recommended on Monday that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in public indoor spaces.

This announcement came as a result of new scientific evidence showing that the delta variant spreads more easily than previously thought. The city’s current seven-day average of COVID cases is at 1,190, more than five times higher than the case count at the beginning of last month.

The mayor also said today that new city employees must have received at least one dose of the vaccine before starting their employment. Other city employees, including teachers, must either be vaccinated or participate in weekly testing, officials announced last week.

Still, other critical details about what the fall reopening will look like remain murky. In particular, the education department has not said what will happen if students or faculty test positive for the virus. An education department spokesperson said more information about COVID testing and quarantine policies will be released closer to the start of the school year.

For Summer Rising, the city is continuing its policy of shutting down classrooms for 10 days if one or more students in a class tests positive. Currently, 162 classroom closures are in effect.

With regards to social distancing, officials have said they will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends spacing students three feet apart except when buildings don’t have enough room to accommodate that.

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