Philadelphia schools will stay virtual as virus cases spike

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia public school students will continue to attend classes virtually for the foreseeable future, school district officials announced Tuesday.

The announcement comes on the same day that Philadelphia public health officials saw a peak in confirmed virus cases and increased hospitalizations. The school district had planned to begin bringing back younger students for a hybrid in-person instruction model starting November 30, with plans to phase in instruction for students with complex instructional needs and then older students next.

“We hope to see these students back in school before the spring,” said Philadelphia district Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., adding that it would ultimately depend on health experts and infection trends whether that happens.

“The most important thing that is concerning to me, is that we wanted to make sure that children had the appropriate conditions to learn to read, to learn to do math ... and unfortunately in their communities, those conditions don’t always exist, which is why we were doing our best to get children back,” Hite said.

About one-third of parents with students who would have been eligible to return had opted for in-person, part-time instruction that would have put students in classrooms two days a week. Hite said those parent requests will be honored as soon as it becomes an option.

Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said of the 95 schools that have been operating with some level of in-person instruction including parochial, charter or independent schools, the city had found only three schools where spread of the virus was likely to have happened inside the school. Farley said as of Tuesday the city was not recommending those schools shutdown, but that could change.

Farley said the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus-related issues has nearly doubled in two weeks, though it was still below 400 as of Tuesday. He said the city has surpassed the goal of testing 5,000 people or more a day, but other virus indicators were on the rise.

Pennsylvania also hit a record high in confirmed cases Tuesday, reporting more than 4,360 new infections — the fifth daily record in just over a week. Pennsylvania has been averaging nearly 3,200 new infections per day, up 80% in two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The state reported 62 new deaths. At least 9,086 people in the state have died from the virus since the pandemic started.

As virus cases ticked up in the state and throughout the country, Farley emphasized officials’ advice that people avoid celebrating Thanksgiving or other upcoming holidays with anyone outside their immediate household, saying they are still seeing family gatherings such as birthday parties and weddings as spreading events.

He also recommended that anyone who had been a part of large gatherings, from protests to celebrations related to the 2020 election, get tested seven days after any prolonged contact and try to quarantine away from others for two weeks. Farley said he was making the recommendation regardless of whether the gathering was outside or people had worn masks.