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Pa. changes COVID-19 guidance for schools
Patriot-News - 3/30/2021
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Tuesday it is offering new guidance to Pennsylvania schools related to COVID-19, allowing less distance between desks in classrooms.
The Wolf administration said it is hoping to help more schools resume in-person learning. The state’s new recommendations follow federal guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration said. The state is also advising schools they can close for shorter periods if new cases are identified.
Pennsylvania’s Health and Education Departments issued a joint statement saying schools should keep students at least 3 feet apart in classrooms. Previously, schools were asked to keep kids 6 feet apart.
The state’s new recommendations and guidance take effect April 5.
“Our updated recommendations bring us a step closer to a full return to in-person teaching and learning across Pennsylvania,” Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said in a statement. “While recommendations on physical distancing, closures, and quarantines may have changed, the importance to adhering to all health and safety guidelines has not – it is imperative that we remain committed to protecting our students, teachers, and staff.”
In recent weeks, state lawmakers have been growing increasingly impatient for all of Pennsylvania’s public schools to move more quickly to in-person education. While the majority of schools are offering at least some face-to-face classes, a number of schools are fully remote.
As of Monday afternoon, the state Department of Education reports 27% of school districts, charter schools, technical schools and intermediate units are operating full in-person learning models. Some 42% of those schools are in blended learning models. The remaining 32% are still using a fully remote instructional model.
With the new recommendations, state offers differing social distancing guidelines at varying school levels.
The health and education departments say elementary students can remain 3 feet apart. In middle and high schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart in counties with low and moderate community transmission of COVID-19, the administration said. In counties with substantial spread of the virus, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart, state officials said.
There are now 35 counties showing substantial spread of the coronavirus, the Wolf administration said Monday. The Wolf administration uses three categories to gauge the transmission of COVID-19: low, moderate and substantial.
COVID-19 Response Director Wendy Braund said the Wolf administration continues to urge schools to monitor the level of transmission of the virus in determining how schools should operate.
“We continue to encourage districts to use the to use the percent positivity in counties, as well as the number of cases in a school in the decision making process as we all work to keep Pennsylvania children safe and in school,” she said in a statement.
The Wolf administration also said schools can close for shorter periods when COVID-19 cases are detected. The recommended closures are based on community transmission.
The recommendation for closures to in-person learning in some instances is reduced from 3-7 day to 1-2 days. The longest recommended closures are now cut down from 14 days to 5 days. (The education department’s recommendations are on its website.)
The state has reserved the first batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines to teachers and school employees. More than 112,000 teachers and school staff have been vaccinated.
In a news conference Tuesday, Wolf said the vaccination of teachers should be finished within the next two days, which is ahead of schedule. Wolf has said teachers and school staff were being given the Johnson & Johnson vaccines as another step toward reopening more of Pennsylvania’s schools.
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