In his first big test as mayor of New York City, Eric Adams is resisting pressure from municipal unions and elected officials to do more to stop the spread of the coronavirus as cases and hospitalizations are surging.
Mr. Adams is holding firm that schools must stay open, and he is urging employers to have employees return to their offices, despite calls from some union leaders to temporarily return to virtual learning and remote work.
With coronavirus cases rising rapidly in recent days, a small but growing list of public school districts around the country — including Newark, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Cleveland — have moved temporarily to remote learning. On Monday night, Philadelphia’s school district announced that 81 schools, out of 216, would go remote.
In an interview on CNN on Tuesday morning, Mr. Adams defended his decision to reopen schools, even though roughly a third of parents did not send their children back to classrooms on Monday for the start of the semester. He continued to argue that students were safer at school.
“I’m not going to allow the hysteria to prevent the future of my children receiving a quality education,” Mr. Adams said on CNN.
On Tuesday, President Biden, citing the lack of evidence that Omicron more severely impacts children, called for schools to remain open in the United States. Local officials should use federal funds from the stimulus package passed last year to improve ventilation systems in schools and support classrooms large enough for social distancing, he said.
“We have no reason to think at this point that Omicron is worse for children than previous variants,” Mr. Biden said. “We know that our kids can be safe when in school.”
Mr. Adams, a Democrat who was sworn in on Saturday just after the New Year’s Eve ball dropped in Times Square, also urged companies not to allow employees to work remotely, echoing a message he conveyed Monday on Bloomberg TV: “You can’t run New York City from home.”
Mr. Adams insisted on Tuesday that he was not at war with the teachers’ union and its president, Michael Mulgrew, who had called for a temporary return to remote learning.
“There’s no battle between Michael Mulgrew and Eric Adams,” Mr. Adams said, adding that they speak three times a day and were working together to keep classrooms safe.
Mr. Adams has repeatedly argued that city schools must stay open and that poor children in particular suffered from remote learning. He recently announced, alongside his predecessor and the governor, a plan to distribute millions of rapid at-home tests to schools and increase random surveillance testing among students.
New York City reported nearly 30,000 new virus cases on Monday, and the number of people hospitalized has surpassed 5,000, according to state data. That level exceeds last winter’s peak, but is still below the hospitalization rate during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, when 12,000 people were hospitalized on the worst days.
There are long lines outside testing centers, as has been the case for weeks, and many private companies have said their employees should continue to work from home.
Some public officials have called for more aggressive measures to stop the spread of the virus, including Mark D. Levine, the new Manhattan borough president who has become a leading voice in amplifying the views of health experts.
Mr. Levine released a 16-point plan on Monday that called on the city to encourage New Yorkers to avoid large gatherings, to temporarily allow city employees to work from home and to require masks at all indoor settings for vaccinated and unvaccinated New Yorkers.
“We need to act now to slow this wave, protect our hospitals, and support the sick,” he said.
His plan has received support from leaders including Randi Weingarten, the head of the country’s most powerful teachers union, and Ron T. Kim, a state assemblyman from Queens.
In September, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered city employees who had been working from home to return to offices. The city has more than 300,000 workers, and about 80,000 of those who work in offices and had been allowed to work remotely were required to return.
As coronavirus cases began to soar in December, the largest union representing city workers called on Mr. de Blasio to implement a remote policy for employees who are able to do their jobs from home. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the union, District Council 37, said it would continue to push Mr. Adams for a remote policy.
“Our nonessential members have proven they can do their jobs from home,” the spokeswoman, Freddi Goldstein, said. “There’s no reason to keep them in the office risking their health.”
Mr. Adams, who is close with District Council 37 leaders, has said that he would discuss the policy with unions.