A major local medical authority recommends that Philadelphia-area schools go fully virtual amid record spikes in COVID-19.
The recommendation comes from the Children Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab, which has been advising state and local education officials since the pandemic began.
Over the summer and fall, the PolicyLab released guidance to help schools reopen classrooms safely — but that was at a time when virus cases in the region had ebbed.
With cases surging across the region and country, PolicyLab said its epidemiological models call for more caution. Researchers now believe all schools — public, parochial, and private — should conduct classes remotely and stay remote through the winter holidays.
PolicyLab recommends schools make the shift online by next Monday.
“We have convincing evidence that this winter wave has moved in very quickly,” said David Rubin, the doctor who heads the PolicyLab. “This is about ensuring that we have enough capacity in our hospitals to get through the holiday season. I think the worst of the pandemic is upon us.”
“This is about getting through the worst part of this crisis,” he said.
Rubin added that shutting schools down before Thanksgiving and Christmas could help dampen an anticipated viral spike triggered by family gatherings. He’s hopeful that a break from in-person school can blunt the worst of the pandemic locally and set schools up to return once the new year begins.
“[Thanksgiving and Christmas] are major transmission events given the amount of circulating infection that we’re now seeing in kids and in adults,” Rubin said. “We’re focused on these two holidays and trying to prevent transmission during the holiday season.”
He did make one caveat, saying that it might be OK for some schools serving younger students to continue operating if they’ve been able to maintain good safety protocols so far.
The School District of Philadelphia has already decided to pause its school reopening plan, which was set to begin, in phases, on Nov. 30.
There are, however, 95 charter, private, and parochial schools offering some level of in-person classes across the city, according to Dr. Thomas Farley, the Philadelphia Health Commissioner.