Covid-19 and Schools: Are They Ready for the Next Big Surge?

And school outbreaks remain limited, as they have been throughout the pandemic.

New York City, the nation’s largest district and the one currently most threatened by the Omicron variant, has 1,600 schools; seven are currently closed because of virus cases, with 45 under investigation.

On Tuesday, the test positivity rate in the city’s schools was 1.76 percent out of more than 10,000 tests, according to a district spokesman. The citywide community positivity rate has been 4 percent over the past two weeks. Even though the policy is to test only unvaccinated students who have parental consent, the data suggests schools are relatively safe environments.

The picture nationally had been bright enough that many schools relaxed virus restrictions in recent weeks.

Several school districts in Florida dropped their mask mandates. New Jersey relaxed school quarantine rules, decoupling them from community transmission rates and reducing the number of stay-at-home days for students who had close contact with an infected person.

And in Missouri, the attorney general, a Republican, sent a letter to districts directing them to drop mask mandates and quarantine requirements after a circuit court judge ruled that such measures violated the State Constitution. Several districts are resisting, a sign perhaps that there may be political dissension after the holidays, when schools weigh whether to reopen classrooms after family gatherings that will almost certainly make the current surge more severe.

Washington, D.C., has already extended its vacation by two days, directing families to pick up rapid tests at schools and test students before returning them to the classroom.