By SÍLE MOLONEY
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard A. Carranza announced on Sept. 14, the opening of the Department of Education COVID Response Situation Room—a multi-agency partnership between the Department of Education (DOE), Department of Health and Mental Health (DOHMH), and the Test & Trace Corps—to facilitate a rapid response to positive COVID-19 cases in public schools.
The Situation Room provides a single point-of-contact between schools and agency partners responsible for performing both testing, contact tracing, and ensuring the appropriate interventions are being taken by school communities.
“The Situation Room is the precise system we need to identify, trace, and treat positive cases within our school communities,” said De Blasio. “My pledge is simple: every case will be met with swift and decisive action to keep transmission low and our kids and teachers safe.”
This unprecedented school year requires all hands on deck, and that’s exactly what we’ll have in the Situation Room, resulting in quick, decisive action for our schools and clarity and transparency for all families,” said Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza. “Our principals will now have a one-stop shop to raise concerns and receive rapid, coordinated responses that put the health and safety of our school communities first.”
Melanie E. La Rocca is the department of buildings commissioner. “Keeping our students and teachers safe requires an unprecedented response to an unprecedented time,” Rocca said. “Through our multi-agency partnership, we are ensuring a clear path of communication, decisiveness, and transparency to give Principals and school leaders the correct information they need in order to lead their communities, as well as providing families and staff with the transparency and clarity of action they deserve. Our focus is the health and wellbeing of our school communities and we will achieve this together.”
Beginning Sept. 14, school leaders can call the Situation Room if they receive notice from a staff member, student, or parent/family member of a positive COVID-19 test or if a student or staff member is isolating or sent home with symptoms. School leaders are encouraged to contact the Situation Room if they have any alerts, questions, or concerns related to responding to suspected or confirmed cases.
Upon reporting a possible case to the Situation Room, DOHMH will verify the case and, if needed, trigger a Test + Trace investigation. Case response will begin within three hours for NYC residents, with documented cases being confirmed as quickly as 15 minutes. Schools will communicate to all families and students within school anytime a case is laboratory confirmed and what next steps need to be taken – including whether or not students and staff need to quarantine or if the school will be temporarily shut down.
The Situation Room will be open Monday through Friday, 5.30 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. Response to reported cases will follow the previously announced health and safety policies found here.
In the interest of the health and safety of the entire city, DOHMH recommends that all New Yorkers get tested, whether or not they have symptoms or are at increased risk. School staff and students can receive free, expedited COVID-19 testing at 22 city-run testing locations. The department said that testing is one component of stopping the spread that, when combined with social distancing, face coverings, proper hand hygiene, and staying home when you are sick, can significantly decrease the risk of transmission.