HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) – Under pressure to give schools more health guidance about how to safely reopen, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration says it’ll provide recommendations to school districts based on the local rate of transmission of the coronavirus.
“It would have been nice to have this guidance four to five months ago as we struggle through this process independently,” said McKeesport Superintendent Dr. Mark Holtzman.
Dr. Rachel Levine said in a call with the press Monday that they needed time to track the numbers and this new tool is what they are providing to the districts.
The Department of Health said it plans to provide an analysis showing the seven-day rate of transmission in each county and group those rates into three categories: low, moderate and substantial. The department’s recommendation on how to reopen would be based on those categories.
While a county’s transmission rate and corresponding category could change week by week, Wolf’s administration said schools should consider changing their instructional models only after looking at the past two weeks of transmission.
The recommendations rely on incidence rate and percent positivity — two standard public health metrics.
“The recommendation is to look at the metrics we provided to make a decision, then they continue to track the metrics to make decisions there after,” said Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.
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All counties in western Pennsylvania except Greene County fall under the moderate model. What that means is it’s recommended for districts to provide blended or full remote learning.
Greene County falls under low for incident rate, but moderate percent positivity. In order to fully reopen in a normal capacity, both metrics must be low.
“I think they are clear. I think they are reasonable, but I think if we were in a position where it didn’t fit our current proposal, then I may be a little more frustrated,” Holtzman said.
Most superintendents KDKA spoke with on Monday agree with Holtzman, but they want to know what happens if the county’s numbers change.
“That’s going to be very challenging — to just shift gears — so you have to be prepared to have some type of landmark dates and times at which you will consider those changes because we do have childcare and other circumstances,” Holtzman said.
The state recommends districts monitor the numbers on a two-week basis and make changes to the models per quarter. If there is an outbreak in a county, Dr. Levine said the state would step in with further guidelines for the schools.
You can read the latest guidance from the state online. The administration says more guidance about what to do if there’s a coronavirus case at a school “is forthcoming.”
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