The Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education announced updated guidance for K-12 schools in the state.
New social distancing recommendations
Aligning with CDC recommendations, students in elementary school may now be sat at least three feet apart in classrooms.
“The level of transmission is not substantially different at a three-foot difference between children, versus six feet,” COVID-19 Response Director Wendy Braund said.
In middle and high schools, distance depends on the level of community transmission in the county. Low and moderate community transmission counties can place students three feet apart, in substantial counties students should go back to six feet apart. Every student should still wear a mask.
“The department continues its efforts to work with schools to provide guidance when a case occurs,” Braund said. “This includes actions related to cleaning and disinfecting, isolation and quarantine recommendations and actions to recommend the closure of schools or school buildings. We continue to encourage districts 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.”
New recommendations for confirmed COVID-19 cases in schools
There are also new recommendations for how school administrations should handle confirmed COVID-19 cases in buildings. The recommendations for days to close after confirmed cases is reduced to 1-2 days from 3-7 days, and 5 days, down from 14 days.
Matt Stem is the Department of Education Deputy Secretary. He explained the new guidelines are based on CDC-recommended quarantine guidelines.
“We recognize the critical importance of in person instruction and hope that this step, along with updates to our recommendations for responding to positive covid-19 cases will foster greater flexibility for school communities as they serve students each day,” Stem said.
“Our updated recommendations bring us a step closer to a full return to in-person teaching and learning across Pennsylvania,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “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.”
Ultimately these are guidelines, and districts are still left to make decisions on their own.
“Districts have the latitude along with their school boards and others to make decisions that consider our recommendations in light of local conditions,” Stem said.
The administration announced that they are ahead of schedule on the teacher vaccine initiative plan, and are nearly finished vaccinating all teachers and school staff in the state.
“This updated guidance continues to assist our schools as they work to be open for in-person learning. We must remember that the vaccine is our path to a new tomorrow,” Braund said.
Governor Wolf also announced yesterday that Pennsylvania is expected to receive nearly $5 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds to help K-12 schools return students to classroom learning and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most.