Lander says COVID Testing Needed Before Return to School From Winter Break

Brad Lander
City Comptroller Brad Lander (Photo by Tsubasa Berg)

Comptroller-elect Brad Lander is strongly suggesting a testing mandate for schools upon the return from winter break. On Dec. 20, the Brooklynite released a statement issuing his recommendations for students and staff, as well as city workers who are required to be vaccinated.

“NYC should ensure all educators and students show a negative test before returning to classrooms on January 3rd. City-run testing sites can give priority to families and educators over the New Year weekend, just as they did before back-to-school,” Lander said.

NYC should procure rapid tests to have enough on hand to test everyone who doesn’t bring a recent negative result at school that morning. We have the capacity, if we plan ahead.”

COVID-19 numbers have changed drastically since the first day of school on Sept. 13. At that time, the 7-day average of cases was 1,631. Because of the omicron variant, it’s now seven times that, sending New Yorkers everywhere into long testing lines just before the holiday. And with the increase in travel, the spread is likely to continue. 

“While this surge continues, schools should ramp up testing of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools, and the Situation Room must be adequately staffed to get answers to schools in a timely way,” Lander said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio expects the omicron variant to be “fast and temporary” compared to the delta variant, which caused very serious cases and continued to account for 99% of cases until omicron came to the United States. During his press conference on Dec. 19, he said, “We can weather that storm if more and more people get vaccinated, more and more people go get those boosters. This temporary reality demands an urgent immediate step, which is to maximize vaccination.” 

In NYC, 71.3% of residents are fully vaccinated. However, the CDC noted that breakthrough infections are likely to occur—the vaccines are most effective at preventing severe illness and death, rather than just transmission of the virus. 

“The personal decisions we make over the next two weeks could determine the success of our city over the next two years,” Mayor-Elect Eric Adams added. 

He spoke more about testing than the current mayor did, asking residents to “get tested regularly.” 

And Commissioner Dave Chokshi, from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, gave guidelines to mask wearing as well. “Wear a high-quality mask, like a KN95, a KF94 or N95, improve ventilation or gather outdoors, and stay home if you feel sick, no matter how mild your symptoms, even just to a scratchy throat or a runny nose,” Chokshi said.

The mayor announced thousands of free rapid test kits and masks going to community organizations to distribute to neighborhoods that need them most, and continues to announce new testing sites, but this did not immediately quell the rush of people overwhelming small testing sites over the last week. 

Comptroller-elect Lander’s words on this issue highlight what the future may hold even when this wave of cases settles: “The outgoing and incoming Mayor and school officials can and should prepare now to ensure that January 3 is a turning point that reduces rather than accelerates this wave of the pandemic,” he said.

Students aren’t required to be vaccinated, but Adams, who will be inaugurated Jan. 1, has previously expressed that he is open to the idea if his health advisors recommend it.