New York City is seeking to keep schools open by ramping up a COVID-19 testing program to ensure that all students testing negative for the coronavirus and without symptoms can remain in school in the spring semester.

According to New York Times, the city will eliminate the policy of quarantining entire classrooms if one student is exposed to the coronavirus, and instead prioritize a ramped-up testing program to allow asymptomatic students testing negative to attend their classrooms.

The new policy will take effect as of Jan. 3 when nearly one million students are scheduled to return to public schools after holidays.

In the previous policy, New York City—home to the nation’s largest school system—only quarantined unvaccinated close contacts of infected students for 10 days. However, hundreds of classrooms were entirely closed or partially closed last week due to their exposures to COVID-19. The city’s officials also expect the Omicron variant will continue to surge over the next few weeks.

To avoid frequent closures and disruption, the city has introduced the new measure which will provide students with rapid at-home tests if someone in their classroom tests positive.

If the students are asymptomatic and test negative, they can return the day after their first negative test. They will then be given a second at-home test within five days of their exposure. Students or parents will report their test results to schools.

Students will also receive rapid tests if their classmates or teachers are displaying symptoms. Those who test positive will have to quarantine for 10 days.

The city’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mayor-elect Eric Adams who takes office on Saturday, and New York Governor Kathy Hochul appeared together at a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 28, to present a united front against school closures.

The new policy, which de Blasio referred to as “Stay Safe and Stay Open,” comes after more than 27,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the city on Tuesday, and more than 2,300 people were hospitalized with the virus.

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