The recommendations are a key component for Pennsylvania schools looking to open their doors for face-to-face instruction this fall
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsyvlania Department of Education and the Department of Health this week issued a series of recommendations to schools, spelling out what they should do in the event a case of COVID-19 is identified there.
In most cases, the recommendations state, a single COVID-19 case for a student of staff member at a school would not require an immediate shutdown of the building.
But if a school finds two or more cases within a 14-day period, it could force at least a short-term closure of the building, according to the guidelines. Any school that has five cases in a two-week period would have to close for at least two weeks.
The recommendations are key for those school districts across the state looking to implement at least a partial return to face-to-face instruction this fall. They put a premium on the need for flexibility for students, staff, and families.
The first component of the guidelines begins with the state’s baseline determination of whether or not a school district is located in a county with low, moderate or substantial COVID-19 transmission rates. A county’s status is based on local case counts and positive test rates over the previous seven days.
As of this week, only Union County in the north-central region of the state has coronavirus transmission rates high enough to warrant a recommendation from the state that all schools begin the year teaching remotely.
Right now, school officials in every other county have clearance to open buildings to at least have of the school district’s student body at a time, under the guidelines.
Most districts in Central Pennsylvania are electing to fully re-open with in-person instruction, with the notable exceptions of the school districts of Harrisburg and Lancaster, which announced they’re planning remote-only learning programs.
According to the guidelines:
- Schools in areas with low spread who discover one case inside a school building in a 14-day period must clean areas where the infected person has been and quarantine close-contacts (people who have been within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 consecutive minutes starting from two days before the onset of illness until the time the infected patient is isolated). It will be up to state or local public health staff and school administration to determine whether entire classrooms need to be quarantined and excluded from the school.
- With two to four cases in a single building over the two-week period, or multiple buildings with single cases who aren’t from the same household, the state recommends districts clean, trace contacts and close those buildings for three days or longer, depending on the county’s transmission rates.
- Schools that get five or more cases in a two-week span are advised to close down for two weeks, during which time the entire building should be cleaned.
In areas where COVID-19 is considered to be at the “substantial” level of community spread, schools are advised to shut down and switch to an entirely remote learning program.
If a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, other people should be kept out of areas where the infected person has been — including buses and vans — and custodial staffers should be required to wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting of the areas begin.
Students should not take part in disinfecting, the state agencies say.
Public health officials do not need to be notified every time someone exhibits symptoms, but those people should be isolated and sent home with a referral to get medical attention, the state agencies suggest.
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