HARRISBURG -- Almost every school district in the state is now voluntarily operating remotely or operating under the threat of a state order to go online if officials determine the schools aren’t strictly following a state mandate requiring face coverings.
Roughly 1-in-10 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week in Pennsylvania were school-aged, new state data shows.
According to the state’s Early Warning Dashboard, 41,424 people in Pennsylvania tested positive for COVID-19 last week, including 4,212 between the ages of 5-18.
Fewer than 28,000 school-aged children in the state have tested positive for COVID-19 throughout the entire pandemic, but 13,424 of those cases came in November, meaning almost half of the COVID-19 cases in school-aged children came to light in the last month.
The revelation comes a week after the state had ordered that schools in areas of substantial community spread of COVID-19 go fully online or school officials must sign a pledge that they will strictly enforce the state’s public health order requiring that face coverings be worn.
School officials in areas of substantial community spread for at least two weeks had until Monday to sign that pledge or offer classes online. The Department of Education didn't respond Monday when asked how many districts had signed the attestation pledge.
There were 59 counties in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks when the state first unveiled the attestation pledge early last week. But based on current state measures, every county in the state now has substantial levels of community spread except Cameron County.
“Within that level of (substantial) transmission, we do recommend that schools consider moving to remote learning. In fact, that’s what we’re asking them to do at the moment,” Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said Monday. “I want to make sure we honor local control, for those institutions that choose not to move to a remorse learning option, then the important aspect here is that they agree to double-down through this attestation form to adhere to the mitigation strategy as it relates to face coverings,” he said.
Ortega said that if a school doesn’t strictly enforce the mask order after local officials signed the pledge, the state will order the school district to go online until the level of coronavirus transmission in the county subsides. During that period, schools would also be barred from allowing their students to participate in extracurricular activities “that would include athletics,” he said.
He didn’t explain how state officials will determine that school districts have violated the order.
A Department of Health complaint form posted online indicates that complaints about COVID-restriction violations regarding schools should be directed to local school boards.
Kendall Alexander, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said that the Health Department complaint form “does not currently apply” and that Education and Health department staff are working on providing updated guidance on how to provide tips about COVID-19 safety violations in schools.
State officials “will provide additional details as soon as possible,” she said.
The Department of Health on Monday announced that a contact tracing app launched for adults in September is now available for teens, as well.
The COVID Alert PA app notifies users when they’ve been in close contact with individuals who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. The app was launched in late September, though until Monday it was only available for those over the age of 18.
“While the app has been available to Pennsylvanians 18 and older, we wanted to ensure more residents had access to these resources and can be notified if exposed to COVID-19," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. “By expanding the age range, we can hopefully increase the number of individuals who download the app, increasing its effectiveness to help control the spread of this dangerous virus, especially in school settings,” she said.
The app has been downloaded more than 600,000 times. However, only 326 people have used the app to report that they tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Department of Health.