New York Bans Gatherings of 500 People Unless They Are Children Penned in Enclosed Spaces

Scientists, teachers, and parents are asking: Why is one of the most coronavirus-impacted cities keeping its schools open "at all cost"?


Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency for the city of New York yesterday, banning gatherings of more than 500 people in order to stop community spread of the coronavirus. The only exceptions to the ban—which wipes out Broadway, among other entire sectors of Gotham's economy—are hospitals, nursing homes, public transit…and schools?

"There are three things we want to preserve at all cost," de Blasio explained at a press conference, in which he predicted that the number of cases in the city would grow from 100 to 1,000 within a week. "Our schools, our mass transit system, and most importantly our health care system." The possibility of that first imperative wiping out the third has left many parents, teachers, and scientists spooked.

"We can say with confidence that the actions of local government in the coming days and weeks will substantially impact the course of the epidemic in our city," a joint letter from 36 New York City infectious disease scientists stated yesterday, hours before de Blasio's declaration. "It is our view that New York City government should act now. We recommend that social distancing should be actively implemented, not merely recommended. Events with large numbers of people should be prohibited. Perhaps most importantly and controversially, schools should be closed within the next few days."

Italics mine.

Virologist Paul Bieniasz, who signed the letter, explained the reasoning to Forbes: "NYC schools represent ~1700 gatherings typically of >500 people that are repeated daily. Closing schools is likely to dwarf the effect of stopping one-off 500 person gatherings….Can you imagine a more effective way to spread a respiratory virus than sending one or two family members (children) off to mix with hundreds of others, having them return to their families in the evening, and repeating that process every day?"

There is some momentum locally for heeding the scientists' advice. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson this morning said in an interview and then tweeted that "It is time to close our public schools."

The Movement of Rank and File Educators, a sort of aggro caucus within the locally dominant United Federation of Teachers, argued yesterday that "it is past time to close the school system entirely," explaining: "We are of course concerned about the effects that this will have on students and their families. However, it is clear that the socially responsible course of action to #FlattenTheCurve on the outbreak. Transmission is clearly already happening in the schools and the sooner it stops the fewer people will die."

New York's private schools, including those run by the Catholic Archdiocese, are shutting down at a rapid clip, as are local universities.

So what is de Blasio's justification not just for adopting a less aggressive social-distancing posture for public schools than the less-infected polities of Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, San Francisco, Bergen County, and the entire country of Estonia, but for attempting to keep these germ-swapping laboratories open "at all cost"?

Part of it is that New York schools provide social services, including to many poor kids. "We know that for many families, school is the only place to get meals for the day and that need continues even if a school closes," an Education Department spokeswoman told PIX 11. "If a school is closed for 24 hours we're prepared to serve grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for any student who wants it."

De Blasio also warns, as he did this morning on WNYC, of a "huge domino effect"—not of kids infecting each other and then infecting their more vulnerable family members, but of working families working less. "Where do our children go?" the mayor asked at Thursday's press conference. "And if our children have nowhere to go, then their parents can't go to work, and that includes a lot of parents we depend on, first responders, health care professionals. It's a very slippery slope."

Most worryingly from my perspective as a local parent, de Blasio is suggesting that children's comparative resilience to the virus is a factor in his thinking, when it's their potential as transmitting agents that should be the focus.

"I worry that [coronavirus] is becoming sort of the cause for making a bunch of decisions that actually alter all the rest of our life, including in some very bad ways," he said on The Daily Show this week. "Let me give you an example. Some people are saying, 'Close our schools.' Now, we have a lot of evidence that this disease, thank God, does not really have that much of an impact on healthy children. When you think about folks saying close everything…a lot of parents say to me, 'Our kids need the schools not just for their education. It's where they get their meals.'"

Italics again mine. The mayor this morning contradicted that logic on WNYC, disparaging what he called the "fallacy" that kids pulled from schools "would be in perfect isolation." It seems odd to worry about people's potential transmission effects only when they are no longer being corralled with hundreds of others in close quarters.

Faced with the very real domino effect of cascading positive tests, parents at my daughters' two Brooklyn schools have been yanking their kids at a very noticeable rate the past two days. (This will be my 11-year-old's last day.) It is possible that the combination of parent/teacher walkouts will spur a reluctant government into action; it is perhaps more probable that the sheer exponential velocity of spread will produce facts on the ground that will render Friday unrecognizable by Monday morning.

The question then will be: Did de Blasio's paternalistic instinct to use government schools as social service providers paradoxically risk the lives of his constituents?

"Other cities that hesitated when action was needed are paying a heavy price," warned the virologists' letter. "We should not gamble with the lives of New Yorkers."

NEXT: Coronavirus. We Got This.

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  1. Let’s be clear: Schools aren’t about learning.

    They are daycare for two-income families, and dispenser of food and social services for the poor and illegal populations. That’s why there’s hesitation in shutting them down.

    1. NYC- WE own YOUR children

    2. It’s almost as if having schools double as social services providers is a bad idea or something.

      1. I agree. It would be much better if we paid parents enough that they could obtain these kinds of services from paid providers and if children had a food and housing safety net that properly provided for their needs when their parents couldn’t.

        But because we don’t provide those things, public schools have become a kind of de facto way to provide these services. The same way that ERs have become the de facto way to provide healthcare to the poor and working class.

        1. You can pay whomever you want whatever you want to.
          So get on it, and shut the fuck up.
          Or don’t get on it, but shut the fuck up.

  2. I think his biggest concern is people realizing that people don’t actually need those social services. We’re won’t suddenly having children starving to death if they don’t get a free lunch at school.

    On a high note, how many kids do you think will get their first taste of unsupervised time thanks to the Coronavirus?

    1. Many parents might also realize that their kids are not learning squat at public schools if they are home with them for any period of time

      1. Most parents won’t notice because they also learned nothing in public school.

    2. some schools in California are providing pickup service for the food they would normally throw away I mean serve to the kids. It would still probably be safer and better to go to fast food drive up

  3. This NOT, I repeat NOT in any way related to federal dollars contingent on the number of days kids are in schools.

    1. This is an excellent point.

      If you have kids in a public school, they constantly harp on being in school and being on time for this very reason. The number of days that can be missed and still count toward federal funding is surprisingly low.

  4. Kids are too stupid to know that they shouldn’t be wiping their noses with their bare hands and then touching stuff other people might be handling, running around coughing and sneezing on people, going for days on end without washing their hands – they have no sense at all. Not that they’re any different than the average adult resident of NYC, it’s just that they’re kids so they have an excuse for being stupid.

  5. >>and schools?

    The Intergalactic Jester proclaims this Conformity Factory … open!

  6. The fact that children seem to almost never contract this virus might be one reason.

    1. I have never heard that as true. There’s a difference between lack of suffering and not catching or being a transmission vector.

    2. Contract the virus would be the wrong phrase. My understanding is that they can in fact contract the virus. They may not show symptoms or have any bad affects, but they would be able to pass it to other people.

      1. Yes, the virus has very little effect on healthy young people, but they’re still a vector for transmission.

  7. “There are three things we want to preserve at all cost,” de Blasio explained at a press conference, in which he predicted that the number of cases in the city would grow from 100 to 1,000 within a week.

    “at all cost”… really… “at ALL cost”

  8. I hope Welch’s kid infects him

    1. Unfortunately, he’s not old enough to be at significant mortality risk.

    2. Make sense, given how grievously he’s wronged you in the past.

      1. Let’s hope you get it too.

        1. Makes sense, given how grievously I’ve wronged you in the past. Personally, I don’t wish illness and possible death upon strangers who say things I don’t like, but I understand that the Internet is a very serious place for some people.

          1. Don’t care

  9. Think logically for a moment.

    Close schools. What happens? Millions of families have elementary school kids. They can’t stay home by themselves.

    Do it for a day or two and mom or dad stays home.

    Shutter the school for a week? Now mom and dad need to find day care. A huge chunk of kids already go to some form of after-care. Those providers will be pressed in to service. And we won’t be all that much better off. A significant chunk of the kids will still be in a group care setting.

    It is unavoidable. Most people can’t just stay home with the kids.

  10. “”New York Bans Gatherings of 500 People “”

    Unless something changed, this is NOT true. The last I heard was venues and bars under a capacity of 500 will be allowed half capacity.

    1. How many “gather” on the subways and buses?
      Are they being banned?
      At least be consistent in your irrational panic mongering.

  11. Oregon’s policitos think differently than New York’s, I guess. Hell, even our leftist governor here in Oregon is temporarily closing schools.

    1. NYC has twice as many residents as the entire state of OR. I don’t think it’s comparable.

      1. True, but Portland isn’t exactly a rural village. I dare say that the percent of the population (children) in public schools is pretty similar to NYC. Hence, one could assume that the effectiveness, as well as the ineffectiveness, of these opposing policies, is also similar.

        1. I dare say that the percent of the population (children) in public schools is pretty similar to NYC.

          I mean, that might be true but things don’t tend to scale that way. Density matters.

          1. Density is a factor. But, since I am unable to do a statistical analysis with regressions for differing population densities, age, and participation rates in public schools, let me just say this: If closing schools is a good idea, then keeping them open isn’t. And, of course, the obverse is also true. All in all, keeping kids at home would seem to be a better way to reduce the number of potential vectors of the disease, but that is just my way of thinking.

  12. The Movement of Rank and File Educators, a sort of aggro caucus within the locally dominant United Federation of Teachers, argued yesterday that “it is past time to close the school system entirely,”

    Well, will you look at that! I agree with something a teacher’s union said!

    Of course, they’re probably only talking about closing the schools during the pandemic.

    1. I lol’ed. Accidental moment of self awareness indeed.

  13. When you think about folks saying close everything…a lot of parents say to me, ‘Our kids need the schools not just for their education. It’s where they get their meals.’


    1. I hope those parents are either made-up or talking about some hypothetical poor families they assume exist. Because a parent saying that about their own kids should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

      1. Guarantee you they are not made up. They’ve been conditioned to think that its the government’s job to do this.

        1. Well, I mean they’ve already accepted that schools are there to raise their children in loco parentis so why not feed them too?

  14. If schools remain closes, more and more people will find out that public education has become obsolete, that the only education really being provided is hands-on sex ed from teachers to underage students.

    1. Public education isn’t obsolete.
      Where else are they going to produce drones like SimonP?

  15. Makes total sense to keep public transit open during a pandemic, right? I mean, everyone knows that making sure infected people can travel is of paramount importance to contain a disease.

    Oh, wait, that’s like the opposite of a sane response if the disease was as a dangerous as they seem to think.

    Basically New York is saying “This disease is serious enough to cause irrational panic, but not serious enough to actually do anything about it.”

    For once, I kind of agree with them. I’m sure it makes sense in that rat warren, where ‘do something’ is the mantra regardless of effect.

  16. Well, you can’t expect parents to spend their welfare check or food stamps on actually feeding their children can you?

  17. Passaging the virus thru children may reduce its virulence. Or increase it. But it’s a way we were discussing here this week as a way to spread specific immunity thru the population most rapidly. Just don’t visit grandma and grandpa until this blows over.

  18. At first I expected the article to be about foreign children in ICE cages.

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  20. The answer to that is stupid simple: the SCHOOLS only get money for butts on benches. Kids don’t show up, school don’t get paid.

    Follow the money, at least to the faucet.

  21. Can’t believe I am agreeing with the bolshevik major but he is right. Many of those kid’s parents work in the healthcare industry and need to be on the job and kids are very resilient. The best way to get over a virus is to get it and then have immunity against it. (absent a vaccine which won’t be ready for years at best). Unless you are of the at risk segment to die from this, you should not be isolating yourself form like health people.

    Welch is such a NYC woke liberal…like the hordes of woke moms who are invading grocery stores and buying everything out cause their facebook group chat has them all worked up. 12K Americans dies of the H1N1 virus during Obummer and there wasn’t this level of panic…chill will be fine

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