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The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) supports in-person education and has revised its guidelines for school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CHOP’s new recommendations come “at a time when all adults and youth in K-12 settings have been offered vaccination” and with “evidence that COVID-19 is becoming a milder infection in most children.”
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, schools (and particularly the students) have been asked to shoulder a significant burden to avert the risk of severe disease in an unvaccinated public,” CHOP said in its guidance for schools. “Now that all within K-12 school communities have been offered vaccination, the competing risks to children of education loss from prolonged school closures alongside social isolation are far more concerning than COVID-19 itself.”
An empty courtyard at a public school temporarily closed for in-person learning in Philadelphia Jan. 6, 2022. (Hannah Beier/Bloomberg)
The hospital added that “while it is too soon to conclude that COVID-19 has become an endemic seasonal virus like influenza, the declining virulence shows signs that we are rapidly shifting in that direction, particularly for vaccinated individuals.”
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“Now, with limited access to testing at community sites and many schools overwhelmed with contact tracing and required testing solutions that are no longer feasible or sustainable, the time has come to pivot towards solutions that prioritize normalization of in-school education across all communities alongside practical safety measures,” CHOP said.
The hospital’s guidance allows exposed but asymptomatic students and staff to stay in school. Additionally, weekly testing for asymptomatic students and staff is being discontinued, and schools will remain open if 10% of staff is absent versus 3%, as The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported.
Its mitigation recommendations include indoor masking, efforts by staff with respiratory illnesses to stay home while symptomatic, testing for students and staff with mild COVID-19 symptoms and booster vaccinations.
More than 80% of Philadelphia school staff were fully vaccinated by October, according to the school district. Those who are not vaccinated are subject to regular testing.
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Philadelphia schools reopened after winter break this week but switched to virtual learning on Friday due to a winter storm and COVID-19-related staffing shortages, Superintendent William Hite said in a letter to parents.
“As we’ve shared before, we are committed to making school-by-school decisions based on the most current staffing data, which can change quickly,” Hite said. “District leaders will continue to monitor staffing data for all of our schools daily throughout this week and over the weekend.”
A health worker administers a dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic at the Grand Yesha Ballroom in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
The city had 5,500 positive COVID-19 cases Wednesday. On Friday, the Philadelphia Public Health Department recorded 2,858 new cases and a nearly 38% positivity rate.
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More than 74% of adults in Philadelphia are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
More than 5,200 schools closed across the U.S. the first week of the year, some of which will remain closed until Jan. 16, according to community events website Burbio, which has been tracking school closures in about 5,000 school districts during the pandemic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports in-person learning.