November 11, 2020
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia issued a broad recommendation Wednesday encouraging schools in places where the coronavirus is quickly spreading again to cease in-person instruction in favor of virtual learning, citing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases sweeping across the Philadelphia region and the rest of the United States.
In a blog post on the CHOP PolicyLab's website, the hospital outlined the key findings of its COVID-Lab forecasts and called for a shift in policy surrounding education.
"We are now recommending that in areas with rapidly accelerating transmission rates (such as the Philadelphia region) schools, or families voluntarily, revert students to online learning beginning Nov. 16 until 7-10 days after Thanksgiving," the blog post states.
The recommendation is particularly targeted toward students in middle school and high school, age groups that have experienced rising rates of COVID-19 infections and are seen as a risk to accelerate transmission in vulnerable populations.
Philadelphia and Pennsylvania each have reported record daily COVID-19 case counts during the past week, prompting the School District of Philadelphia to announce Tuesday that it has postponed its plans to resume in-person instruction on Nov. 17.
About 100 private and parochial schools in Philadelphia resumed in-person classes in the fall. City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said most of these schools have seen isolated cases of COVID-19, but only one had experienced what could be described as an outbreak, as of last month.
"(W)e advise that ... schools and families now also must commit to short-term adjustments to activities to allow us to navigate this extremely high-risk period so that we can more quickly return to these activities thereafter." – CHOP PolicyLab
CHOP's PolicyLab recently offered guidance to schools about how to safely resume in-person classes.The hospital changed direction this week in light of the rapidly growing risk.
"Why this shift in guidance? Until now, protocols that reopened schools have been successful in preventing linked in-school transmission," hospital officials state. "Unfortunately, overall infection rates in children are now outpacing those of adults in many areas of the country. At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, PCR test positivity rates this past weekend surpassed 15%, a number that nearly doubled in a week."
David Rubin, director of CHOP's PolicyLab, told the Inquirer on Wednesday that the Philadelphia region is "in a catastrophic situation" that requires backing off plans to send students back to classrooms.
The new guidance notes that there may be a window for students to return to schools in December between holidays, but the best bet would probably be to delay any resumption of in-person classes until January.
"Certainly this week’s news of a vaccine on the horizon has instilled much optimism, but unfortunately it won’t arrive in time to shift the fundamental dynamics of the coming weeks," the blog post reads. "Therefore, we advise that in addition to businesses, schools and families now also must commit to short-term adjustments to activities to allow us to navigate this extremely high-risk period so that we can more quickly return to these activities thereafter."