Departments of Health, Education provide additional recommendations to help schools safely navigate COVID-19

Staff Writer

The Pennsylvania departments of Health (DOH) and Education (PDE) on Monday provided school administrators and governing bodies with their recommendations as to which instructional models they should consider implementing based on the changing levels of community transmission of COVID-19 in their counties. The administration said there recommendations “are intended to help schools safely provide instruction to students as they progress through the 2020-21 academic year.”

The recommendations rely on two standard public health metrics used by public health experts: incidence rate and the percent positivity of diagnostic testing. Jefferson County’s distinction was deemed “low” — meaning the full in-person or blended learning model was recommended — while Indiana and Clearfield counties were both listed as “moderate,” which points to the recommendation for a blended learning model or one that’s fully remote.

While a county's corresponding threshold may change week by week, DOH and PDE recommend that schools consider changing instructional models only after observing two consecutive weeks of the same designation. For example, a school offering a blended/hybrid model in a county identified as "moderate" might consider transitioning to a fully in-person model if the county moves to "low" for two consecutive weeks. It is important to note that a significant or widespread outbreak may require moving to a more remote-based model more quickly. The Department of Health said that it will provide proactive consultative assistance to school entities should such an outbreak occur. The designations are posted on PDE's website and will be updated weekly.

These recommendations are not a mandate, but rather are meant to be an additional tool available to school leaders to inform local efforts, officials said, noting that regardless of the instructional model being implemented, all schools must continue to account for the universal masking order dated July 1.