The latest: New York City to shut down amid coronavirus pandemic

New York City should close its schools, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday during a conference call with reporters. He called on the city to come up with a plan within 24 hours to address child care for health care workers and how to feed low-income students.

“I do believe that New York City schools should be closed,” Cuomo said on a conference call. “I call on the parties and the leadership in New York City to come up with a plan on childcare and on food and to do it within 24 hours.”

Cuomo said he had no plans to mandate that schools close statewide, instead leaving local districts to decide their own plans. But he urged the city to quickly move forward to shut down its 1,800 schools. Closing New York City schools seems all but likely now that Mayor Bill de Blasio also lost the backing Sunday of one of his biggest allies in keeping them open: 1199SEIU, the local health-care workers union.

The union’s president, George Gresham, called on the mayor to close city schools as child care options for the union’s workers were being worked out.

“I have been in discussion with other allies on the possibility of providing this much-needed child care through school resource centers, and I am confident that a plan will be reached to ensure that these children receive the care they need while their parents work,” Gresham said in a statement. “I also encourage the state and city to look into allocating additional funding for child care for the children of health-care workers and other essential employees.”

De Blasio has repeatedly said in recent days that he wants to keep open the system serving more than a million students largely because of the burden it would place on low-income families and health-care workers. They are not able to stay home with their own children since they provide the first line of defense during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The biggest union in New York City, 1199, the health care workers, asked to keep them open because they said our members are dependent, and they need to get to work at the hospitals,” de Blasio said on ABC’s “Up Close with Bill Ritter” earlier Sunday. “So, it’s a balance.”

Cuomo echoed these concerns earlier in the day at a press conference held at the state Capitol.

Because many health-care workers, as well as police and firefighters, would need child care, closing schools is not “simple,” he said. “A large percentage of the workforce may say, ‘I have to stay home and watch my children,” Cuomo said.“We can’t have nurses stay home because they have to stay home and watch their child.”

Cuomo said that local districts should decide whether they can make plans to meet those needs. Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island announced two-week closures starting Monday, officials said on a conference call with Cuomo. Westchester schools plan to close as well Wednesday as officials put in place plans for food and child care. These school closures could also affect New York City schools, as many teachers live in the suburbs and may need to stay home with their children.

The governor said Saturday that the state was in talks with the union that represents health care workers about ensuring that their children are cared for and that they are able to get to work in case of system-wide school closures. The state education department already started providing districts throughout the state guidance on how to establish a summer school-style meals program — a massive undertaking for New York City, the nation’s largest school district.

De Blasio has also said closing schools would be a last resort since it would impose an enormous burden on public school families. Roughly 70% of the city’s students are from low-income families, who may struggle to find alternative child care arrangements and who depend on school meals for their children.

Many other elected officials have called on the mayor to operate a pared-down system, like summer school, to ensure that children can get meals and that child care would be available to those who need it.

One analysis, released late last week, estimates that 15% of health-care providers with children don’t have someone else in their household to provide child care when schools close, which could keep them from coming to work.

It’s unclear how many of those health-care workers would find alternate arrangements and how much of an impact lower staffing levels would have on patients, making it difficult to know whether school closures will ultimately hurt or help.

New York City is increasingly an outlier in keeping schools open, as most of the nation’s 30 largest school systems have closed down.  And other districts are providing food and child care. Chicago, for instance, will coordinate food distribution centers and run drop-off child care programs at 18 parks.

This article was updated with new comments from Cuomo.