In an example of how the coronavirus outbreak is exposing longstanding cracks in U.S. society, New York City schools chancellor Richard A. Carranza said that closing the city's public schools for a prolonged period of time would be a "last resort" because 750,000 low-income students in the city, 114,000 of whom are homeless, rely on schools for food, bathing, and even laundry.
"Well this is a tragic embarrassment," tweeted Bard College professor Emma Briant.
Well this is a tragic embarrassment. New York authorities say they can only shut schools during coronavirus as an absolute last resort because 114,000 of the school children are homeless & would have nowhere else to go. @nytimes https://t.co/kSLIIKOFkm— DЯ ΞMMΛ Γ BRIΛИT (@EmmaLBriant) March 9, 2020
As the New York Times reported:
Large-scale school closings might mean, for example, that subway conductors and bus drivers must stay home with their children, or that nurses at public hospitals would not be able to come to work, potentially slowing essential city services.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared a state of emergency over the disease on Saturday, told reporters Monday that the state would shut down any school across New York with a positive case for 24 hours as a precautionary measure.
Any school closures in the country could have dire effects on poorer populations, as observers like Times reporter Dana Goldstein pointed out on Twitter.
"I think the main concern I heard from school leaders across the country was about the risk of an overreaction (longterm school closures) that would severely disrupt...pretty much everything, and disproportionately impact poor families," said Goldstein.
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Writer and educator Clint Smith noted that nationwide school closures could lead to increased food insecurity for the country's children.
"A reminder that if public schools shut down, millions of children will lose their access to some of the only meals they receive each day," said Smith. "Food banks will become more important, and I've learned the best way to help is not to donate your spare canned goods, it's to donate money."
During Cuomo's press conference Monday, the governor also unveiled a new hand sanitizer being produced in state prisons.
Happy Monday@NYGovCuomo just announced New York State has developed its own line of hand sanitizer.— Jimmy Vielkind (@JimmyVielkind) March 9, 2020
It’s being produced by prison inmates. NY’s is 75%. Cuomo says we’re making 100,000 gallons per week. pic.twitter.com/mDsd6NFqca
Prisons house among the most in danger communities, as public defender and criminal justice advocate Scott Hechinger pointed out, and are not allowed to use the product they are producing.
"As of today people in N.Y. jails and prisons are not allowed to use hand sanitizer," said Hechinger. "Alcohol content means it's contraband. Can't use it. Loved ones can't send it. But those same people incarcerated by N.Y. are getting paid 65 cents per hour to manufacture it!"
The effects of the coronavirus on the U.S., tweeted CBS News reporter Grace Segers, could be devastating.
"I don't think we're prepared for the ripple effects this could have for the most vulnerable in our society," said Segers.