Morgan Artyukhina All materialsWrite to the authorThe Omicron-driven outbreak in the US has quickly become the country’s worst, with 1.4 million new cases recorded on Tuesday alone, according to federal health data. Despite the surge, few public officials have endorsed proportionate changes in policy to ensure residents’ safety.As US officials continue to resist calls for better safety measures to control the spread of COVID-19, many are taking matters into their own hands, mostly recently students in New York City, where the outbreak has reached historic levels.Hundreds of students at least 22 schools across New York City saw students walk out on Tuesday as part of a student-organized “Student Walkout for Covid Safety.”
“I organized this because our school conditions are not safe right now,” Felicia, a junior at Bronx High School of Science who headed the school’s walkout, told the Riverdale Press, adding they were protesting because “no one is doing it for us.”
“The amount of cases that we have are just – there are so many people sick, and our mayor is not doing enough to protect us, all the millions of kids in the school system,” they said. The students’ primary demand was to be given the option to “go remote.”
“It doesn’t feel safe to be in school to be honest,’ Danny Mui, a sophomore at the 6,000-student Brooklyn Technical High School, told the New York Daily News. “In my classes, half the classes aren’t there. Some have COVID, some are afraid of COVID, and the school just isn’t doing anything about it.”“There’s no social distancing at all, the stairways are packed. There’s no point coming here if I’m going to get sick,” another Brooklyn Tech student, who asked to remain anonymous, told the paper.Students also described how many of their teachers are sick and how the quick turnover of substitute teachers means little schoolwork is actually getting done in the classroom.New York has been the epicenter of the Omicron outbreak since the new SARS-CoV-2 variant was detected in the US last month, rising to such high levels that in the final days of 2021, an estimated 2% of all Manhattan residents had active Covid cases and one test in five was returning a positive result.Educators, families and students attend a rally to push for stronger coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety precautions in schools in New York, U.S., January 5, 2022.On Monday alone, 40,000 New Yorkers tested positive for Covid, including almost 13,000 students and more than 2,200 staffers, but newly sworn-in Mayor Eric Adams and schools chancellor David Banks have remained committed to keeping schools open no matter what.Following the protests, on Wednesday Adams said it would take at least six months for a remote option to become available, meaning it wouldn’t exist for the rest of the 2021-2022 academic year, which ends in June.Acknowledging the protests, Banks tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that he was “inviting student leaders to meet with me so we can work together for safe and open schools.” However, NYC Student Walkout for COVID Safety, an account representing the nascent protest movement, tweeted late on Tuesday night that “none of the 5 organizers running this account have received any messages from the Chancellor.”
“We are ready whenever you are,” they added.
Nationwide, the outbreak has set new records as local, state and federal governments make similar refusals to implement stricter safety procedures, including the lockdowns used so effectively to control outbreaks in China. On Tuesday, the US registered a new world record with 1.4 million new Covid cases in a single day, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting at least 85,000 more deaths before the month is out.The Big Apple isn’t the only place where schools have become a battlefield over Covid policies: in Chicago, the militant teachers union voted for an “electronic lockout” of Chicago Public Schools after Mayor Lori Lightfoot swore off another social lockdown and the teachers judged their schools’ safety measures to be inadequate.A deal was reached, after a week and a half of online learning and tough negotiations with the city, to return students to school on Wednesday with a new set of Covid safety measures in place.Last Winter, before COVID-19 vaccines were in widespread use, teachers across the US struggled to win adequate safety protections for them and their students as school districts rushed to resume in-person learning. In Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Chicago, and other cities, teachers joined with students and parents in protest to draw attention to the need for better ventilation, stricter quarantine requirements, and a rotating student system to minimize students in the building.