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September 23, 2021

Philly schools urged to conduct more COVID-19 testing for students as transmission rate remains high

The city's health department also relaxed the threshold for when a school needs to pause in-person learning due to a coronavirus outbreak

Education COVID-19
Philadelphia schools COVID-19 Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia is currently only providing COVID-19 testing for students who experience symptoms or are a close contact of someone who tested positive.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has issued revised COVID-19 guidelines that call on city schools to conduct more coronavirus testing while easing the threshold for when a school must pause in-person learning due to an outbreak.

Health officials are recommending that unvaccinated students undergo weekly COVID-19 testing when community transmission is at moderate, substantial or high levels. Philadelphia is currently experiencing high levels of COVID-19 transmission, according to CDC data.

Schools also can provide a test-to-stay option, which would allow a student, who was in close contact with someone who tested positive, to avoid quarantining if school offers frequent rapid COVID-19 testing and the student tests negative every other day for a week.

The School District of Philadelphia currently is providing COVID-19 testing for students who experience symptoms or are a close contact of someone who tested positive. 

For teachers and staff who have not been fully vaccinated, health officials urge schools to offer screening tests regardless of COVID-19 transmission levels.

Fully-vaccinated employees are required to undergo COVID-19 testing once a week as part of the school district's coronavirus vaccine requirements. Teachers, staff and other school personnel who do not provide documentation of having received a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September must be tested for the coronavirus twice per week starting Oct. 4.

The city health department's amended guidance also states a school does not need to pause in-person learning unless three or more grades have a COVID-19 outbreak or more than 3% of the entire school community tests positive. It had been recommended that a school close when at least six COVID-19 cases were discovered in a building, according to CBS3.

At least five city schools have temporarily paused in-person learning this month due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Philadelphia is averaging 276 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past two weeks, according to city health officials.

Anyone who tests positive must tell their school immediately in order to begin the contact tracing process and allow close contacts to get tested, health officials said.

Unvaccinated students who come in close contact with someone who tests positive must quarantine for up to 10 days. Vaccinated close contacts do not need to quarantine, but should get tested 3-5 days after COVID-19 exposure and monitor themselves for symptoms.

All students and teachers are asked to self-screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms before entering school buildings. Those with COVID-19 symptoms should stay home and get tested, according to the city health department.

The city health department also reiterated that everyone – regardless of one's COVID-19 vaccination status – is required to wear a face mask when inside a school building, except when eating or drinking. Schools are also required to implement social distancing wherever possible and provide ample hand sanitizer.

Philly reimplemented an indoor mask requirement for public settings in August as infections from the delta variant surged. Only businesses and public indoor spaces that can verify all staff and customers are fully vaccinated are exempt.

The School District of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are requiring students, teachers, staff and visitors to wear masks when inside school buildings. The archdiocese is not requiring school teachers and staff to be fully vaccinated at this time.

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