Stumbling Out of the Box: Mayor Adams Faces His First Crisis

Eric Adams was effectively elected mayor six months ago, months to plan out his first hundred days, initiative after initiative; his campaign platform is spelled out in 100 Steps Forward. 40-pages of big ideas spanning the vast array of mayoral responsibilities coupled with a school chancellor who is a close friend, a police commissioner able to translate his policies, many women in high profile roles and many de Blasio carry-over commissioners.

Adams envisioned a first hundred days akin to FDR’s first hundred days

An inauguration, more like a coronation in the iconic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, a glittering start and then, COVID/Omicron sucks up all the air.

Positive tests skyrocket.   Every morning the NY Times Coronavirus Tracker  pops up on my phone. The tracker lists increases/decreases in COVID positive tests from day to day – on Monday up 28 per cent with the curve almost straight up.

In the final days of school prior to the holiday recess the Department of Education Situation Room, schools report positive tests to the “room” and are sent a “COVID Contact” form: the Situation Room was overwhelmed, phones unanswered, chaos at a key point in the COVID safety chain.

The indoor inauguration cancelled and moved outdoors, testing sites overwhelmed with lines with hours long waits. Stores sold out of COVID home testing kits and Adams faced with a crisis days before he is sworn into office.

Mayor de Blasio on the stage with Adams, still the Mayor is not leaving quietly; a controversial mayor is deciding whether to enter the June Democratic gubernatorial primary race, although his polling numbers are dreadful.

Can school re-open on January 3rd?  Will schools become Coronavirus Super Spreaders? Should testing of all students and staff be required before the January 3rd return?  Should the school reopening be delayed until the testing is complete?

This morning Adams and de Blasio announced January 3rd opening plans.

The letter to parents and staff (Read here) posted on the Department website “strongly encourages,”

To keep our school communities safe upon everyone’s return to school buildings, we strongly encourage that all students get tested for COVID-19, through a PCR, lab-based rapid test, or a home test kit, before returning to school on January 3, regardless of vaccination status.(the Department will double in-school weekly testing from 10% to 20% of students and staff)

The random in-school surveillance program continues to provide public health experts with an accurate look at the prevalence of COVID-19 in schools. We encourage all families, regardless of whether their child is vaccinated, to consent to in-school testing through their NYC Schools Account (Open external link) or return a signed paper form to the school.

How many families have returned the “consent to in-school testing form?”  Mark Treyger, the outgoing chair of the City Council Education Committee requested information on numbers of consent forms returned by school, the Department has not responded.

Anecdotally, schools in the highest poverty districts are neighborhoods with the highest COVID rates and have the lowest number of returned COVID consent forms.

The key person missing from stage was teacher union President Michael Mulgrew.

In an interview on NY1 last week, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew indicated that – without a major expansion in testing – the union could block a return to buildings on January 3rd. .

“Our testing system that we have is now broken,” he said. “I’m working with the Adams administration. We’ll work through this entire break. But if we don’t see we’re getting the testing system we know we need to keep our schools and communities and children remain safe then we’re going to have to take a different position on this whole schools have to remain open.” 

Whether the actions of the Adams administration are sufficient is unclear,

But experts who spoke to WNYC/Gothamist said it is essential that the city take a more proactive approach to testing, including prioritizing access to tests for students and staff before school reopens.  

They said the city must also increase testing within public schools moving forward. The district serves 940,000 students.

“I’d like to see all faculty, students and staff have unfettered access to the testing that they may need,” said Denis Nash, professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health. 

A few hours ago Mulgrew posted on twitter,

Teachers are prepared to do their jobs on Jan. 3. The real issue is whether the city can do its job — ensuring that new testing initiatives are available in every school and an improved Situation Room is actually in place by next week. (1/4)

We want to thank Gov. Hochul for listening to our request, and for providing city schools with 2 million instant tests so that anyone with close contact with a positive case will be able to know immediately if they are infectious and must quarantine. (2/4)

We’re glad that after weeks of lobbying both the current & incoming administrations, the Situation Room is being rebuilt after basically coming apart in the last several weeks. The system will increase its ability to provide PCR tests to more adults & children every week. (3/4)·

We are moving closer to a safe re-opening of school next week. But we are not there yet. (4/4)

With a million students and a hundred thousand employees testing prior to the opening of schools is not feasible and no electeds are advocating for a delayed opening of schools.

New York City has the strictest virus mandates in the country (Read here) and also the fastest rates of transmission.

On the positive side,

Craig Spencer, a Manhattan ER doctor affiliated with Columbia University who became a Twitter superstar in the early days of the pandemic for his running commentary on the battle against the virus, tweeted a detailed breakdown late Sunday of what omicron cases look like.

“Every patient I’ve seen with Covid that’s had a 3rd ‘booster’ dose has had mild symptoms. By mild I mean mostly sore throat. Lots of sore throat. Also some fatigue, maybe some muscle pain. No difficulty breathing. No shortness of breath. All a little uncomfortable, but fine,” Spencer wrote.

From there, it goes downhill – slowly, though.

“Most patients I’ve seen that had 2 doses of Pfizer/Moderna still had ‘mild’ symptoms, but more than those who had received a third dose. More fatigued. More fever. More coughing. A little more miserable overall. But no shortness of breath. No difficulty breathing. Mostly fine,” he said.

For those who just had the one shot of the J&J vaccine and never took a booster, the situation isn’t as good.

“Most patients I’ve seen that had one dose of J&J and had Covid were worse overall. Felt horrible. Fever for a few days (or more). Weak, tired. Some shortness of breath and cough. But not one needing hospitalization. Not one needing oxygen. Not great. But not life-threatening,” he tweeted.

And then there are the unvaccinated, who by all data are being hospitalized at a rate 15x or more the vaccinated.

“And almost every single patient that I’ve taken care of that needed to be admitted for Covid has been unvaccinated. Every one with profound shortness of breath. Every one whose oxygen dropped when they walked. Every one needing oxygen to breath regularly,” he said.

With all school personnel vaccinated and most boosted Omicron for the vast majority is not life-threatening. Yes scary, yes, a dark shadow hanging out there, is there another variant about to drop and disrupt our lives?

On an upbeat note: scientists are well along working on a universal vaccine that will protect against all variants, a fascinating article – read here

It’s Tuesday (12/29), how will 2021 end? With a bang or with a whimper?

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