health

City Officials Scramble on Coronavirus Testing for Teachers

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials hold a briefing at NYPD headquarters on the coronavirus, March 5, 2020.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials hold a briefing at NYPD headquarters on the coronavirus, March 5, 2020. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

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At least three city public school teachers who visited coronavirus hot zones in Italy over the winter break returned to classrooms before displaying potential symptoms of the illness — but only one was able to get tested right away.

Also in Italy as the virus was spreading: an unknown number of public school students and teachers on class trips.

And only Thursday — a week and a half after classes resumed — did the de Blasio administration order that all teachers who’ve traveled recently to Italy and four other hot zones be tested for the coronavirus right away. Meanwhile, school officials are scrambling to figure out exactly who went on all those class trips to Italy over the break.

Teachers union leader Michael Mulgrew said it’s about time, faulting city health officials for a “holdup.”

He spoke hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot had signed an emergency order mandating tests for any public school teachers, first responders and city health care workers who recently returned from suspected hot zones.

Mulgrew noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had placed Italy, Iran, and South Korea on the list last week, joining China.

“I’m glad they issued that order, since the CDC had issued that order quite some time ago,” the United Federation of Teachers leader said. “I’m glad the health commissioner finally realized it was something to do.”

New Protocols Issued

On Thursday, the Department of Education sent out new guidance to principals and teachers on how to deal with suspected coronavirus cases — and on what to tell students about how to stay healthy.

The actions came after THE CITY revealed Wednesday that a teacher who’d returned from Italy after the break taught before becoming ill. She said a doctor ignored her pleas to test her for coronavirus.

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the Office of Emergency Management in Downtown Brooklyn about the city’s response to the coronavirus, March 2, 2020.
Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the Office of Emergency Management in Downtown Brooklyn about the city’s response to the coronavirus, March 2, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“It’s not up to the DOE to make the final decision on what goes out on health guidance,” Mulgrew said. “I think the DOE was trying to get the guidance out as soon as possible, but I would think the Department of Health had something to do with that holdup.”

Health Department officials did not immediately comment on Mulgrew’s remarks.

On Wednesday, de Blasio noted: “I think we would all say now there should have been a faster adjustment for the additional countries.”

‘A Lot of Trips’

To date, no New York City public school student or teacher has tested positive for the so-called novel coronavirus, an illness that has infected more than 93,000 worldwide and is blamed for 3,194 deaths. That toll includes 99 people in the U.S. who have tested positive, 10 of whom have died.

State and city officials said four people in New York City had tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, along with another 18 elsewhere in the state. Several are listed in serious or critical condition.

During a news conference Thursday at City Hall, de Blasio revealed two more teachers had also recently returned from the Italian hot zones and experienced potential symptoms of coronavirus.

A woman in Lower Manhattan wears a surgical mask during the morning commute, March 5, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

One was a teacher at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, who had been on a field trip in a region of Italy where the virus had surfaced. That teacher returned Feb. 23, and soon after displayed symptoms. The teacher got tested, and the results were negative.

The 44 students on that trip are being monitored, but so far have proved asymptomatic. Ditto for six other school staffers.

The Department of Education said the other two teachers were on vacation in affected regions of Italy and both were to be tested Thursday. They said the results of those tests will be released in the coming days.

One of those teachers had visited the Veneto region of Italy during the break, and returned to the classroom because she was experiencing no symptoms.

She told THE CITY that when she began to feel ill on Monday, she tried to get tested — but was told she wasn’t eligible because Italy wasn’t on the list of hot zones that would trigger a test. At the time, only a visit to China qualified.

On Thursday, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said officials have been trying to account for all field trips to Italy over the break. He noted that while some of the travels were official school trips, others were not.

“We’re going back and find out where our students were going,” he said, noting “there were a lot of trips.”

Carranza promised that by Monday nurses would be sent to all schools that don’t have one. Mulgrew said 137 schools, serving a total 71,000 students, don’t have a full-time nurse or health clinic.

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