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De Blasio: Schools will open despite employees' positive COVID-19 tests

Fifty-five New York City Department of Education employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday, but students will return to schools next week as scheduled.

The positive COVID-19 tests represent 0.32% of the nearly 17,000 conducted, which de Blasio said shows the effectiveness of steps taken by the Department of Education to minimize the spread of the deadly virus.

De Blasio said it is "an obvious reality" that some teachers, staff and students will become infected with the virus, which has caused more than 23,000 deaths in the city since March. But he said that based on the numbers, the long-term risk of the virus for most is relatively slight.

"Some students will test positive at some point in the year and they'll go home for two weeks and then they'll come back and they'll complete the school year," the mayor said. "We have to remember that for the very small percentage of people who test positive for the coronavirus, it is a very temporary reality."

De Blasio, who said he never considered delaying next week's school openings over the positive tests, has faced fierce pressure to delay in-person education from unions, teachers, principals and parents, who say many Department of Education buildings lack proper ventilation and are unsafe for students’ return.

United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who shelved a possible teacher’s strike in August after the city agreed to expanded testing and de Blasio agreed to push back students’ return date from last Thursday to next Monday, said the city has not lived up to its agreements. Mulgrew and other union officials Monday participated in "Not Until It’s Safe" protests against what they called unsafe conditions at some schools.

De Blasio said the city will deploy 2,000 additional teachers to bolster online learning for the system’s 1.1 million students when they return for in-person instruction. Many of those teachers are education department administrators and staff with proper certification, while others are substitutes.

The city has established a "situation room" that will take reports of positive tests from principals and other administrators. Once the tests are confirmed, the Department of Health will provide support to those positive for the virus as they quarantine.

The city's Test & Trace Corps will also be used to communicate with those who may have had contact with someone infected, officials said.