Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) announced updated recommendations for K-12 schools on social distancing in classrooms and how to handle COVID-19 cases in school buildings.
The Department of Health also announced updated guidance on summer camps, which is mostly unchanged from what was issued last July. Updated answers to FAQs can be found here.
The recommendations and guidance take effect April 5.
Updated recommendations on physical distancing
Aligning with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that reflect the latest research, Pennsylvania students may now be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms. The previous requirement was 6 feet. Universal masking remains a requirement.
“The department continues its efforts to work with schools to provide guidance when a case occurs,” COVID-19 Response Director Wendy 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 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.”
In elementary school, students should be at least 3 feet apart.
- In middle and high schools, students should be at least 3 feet apart in counties with low and moderate community transmission. In substantial counties, middle and high school students should be 6 feet apart, if cohorting is not possible.
- NOTE: In our area, Clearfield and Elk Counties are in the substantial level. Jefferson and Clarion Counties are in the moderate level.
- Maintain 6 feet of distance in the following settings:
- Between adults in the school building (teachers and staff), and between adults and students.
- When masks can’t be worn, such as when eating.
- During activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, shouting, band, or sports and exercise. Move these activities outdoors or to large, well-ventilated spaces.
- In common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums.
Updated recommendations on handling COVID-19 cases in schools
The departments also updated recommendations on how school entities should handle confirmed cases of COVID-19 in school buildings. The recommendations consider the level of community transmission in each county, the number of cases among students and staff in each school building during the past 14 days and the size of the school building.
For example, the recommendation for closures to in-person learning in some instances is reduced to 1-2 days from 3-7 days and 5 days from 14 days. The closures allow for cleaning and for public health staff to direct close contacts to quarantine.
“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.”
While many schools are open for in-person learning, vaccinations are an important part of the Wolf Administration’s effort to get more students and teachers back in classrooms. The administration is ahead of schedule and nearly finished with a special initiative to provide teachers and school staff with an opportunity to get the voluntary, single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The state partnered with 28 intermediate units to operate vaccine clinics, with the Pennsylvania National Guard and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare administering the vaccine.
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 returns students to classroom learning and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most.