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Schools to Begin Planning for Reopening

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) today said elementary and secondary schools in the state’s yellow and green phases may resume in-person instruction and activities beginning July 1 under a phased reopening approach that first requires schools to develop health and safety plans based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state Department of Health (DOH).

Reopening Schools in PAPDE also released guidance that allows postsecondary institutions and adult basic education programs, effective June 5, to begin in-person instruction immediately following the development of a health and safety plan outlining strategies for safe operations.

Given the dynamic nature of the pandemic, the preliminary guidance serves as a starting point for school leaders to consider in reopening preparations, and it will continue to evolve as further research, data and resources become available. Later this month, PDE will release additional guidance that outlines steps for school openings while addressing safe operations, teaching and learning and student wellness – with attention to equity throughout.

The two guidance documents released today provide a list of decisions that schools need to consider prior to reopening.

Elementary and secondary schools that want to begin offering in-person instruction or activities must first develop a health and safety plan, which will serve as a local guideline for all school opening activities. The plans should be tailored to the unique needs of each school and reflect a comprehensive, community approach created in consultation with local health agencies.

Plans must encompass several elements, including identifying a pandemic coordinator or team to lead response efforts; steps to protect high-risk children and staff who may be at higher risk; processes for monitoring students and staff for symptoms; guidelines for hygiene practices; processes for cleaning and disinfecting; guidelines for the use of face masks; protocols for social distancing; and procedures for restricting large gatherings.

The plans must be approved by local boards of directors and posted on the school or district public website before a school reopens. The plans must also be submitted to PDE.

The guidance applies to school districts, charter schools, regional charter schools, cyber charter schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units. Nonpublic schools are strongly encouraged to create plans tailored to their unique needs and post them on their websites.

Finally, postsecondary schools in the yellow and green phases can resume in-person instruction effective June 5 and following the development of a health and safety plan. The guidance applies to colleges, universities, seminaries, trade schools and adult basic education programs. Institutions must adhere to proper physical distancing guidelines and other general public health and safety considerations informed by guidelines released by the CDC and DOH.

Department of Health Holds First Regional Contact Tracing Meeting in Southwestern Pennsylvania

Contact TracingThe Department of Health, along with a number of outside organizations, brought together stakeholders last week at the first southwest contact tracing consortium to discuss the contact tracing needs in southwestern Pennsylvania.

In the southwest region, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation helped quickly to mobilize the initial membership of the regional consortium and the department will continue to seek partners for the consortium. The initial attendees were:

  • Community Business Organizations: 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health; Center for Community Resources, Inc.; Fayette County Community Action; Indiana County Community Action Program; United Way of Southwestern PA; YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh;
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers: Centerville Clinics, Inc.; East Liberty Family Health Care Center; Primary Health Network; Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services;
  • Foundations: Jewish Healthcare Foundation; Hillman Family Foundations; Staunton Farm Foundation;
  • Health Systems: Allegheny Health Network; Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania; Vale-U Health (Monongahela Valley Hospital);
  • Human Services Counties: Armstrong/Indiana Behavioral & Developmental Health Program; Beaver County Behavioral Health; Bedford-Somerset Developmental and Behavioral Health Services; Butler County; Indiana County Department of Human Services;
  • Public Health: Allegheny County; Pennsylvania Department of Health
  • Regional Employers and Workforce Development: Allegheny Conference on Community Development; Partner4Work; Pittsburgh Business Group on Health;
  • Universities and College: Community College of Allegheny County; Community College of Beaver County; Duquesne University; Robert Morris University; University of Pittsburgh (Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Social Work and Public Health); Westmoreland County Community College.

The meeting of the southwest consortium is the first regional meeting, and the department is working to set up consortiums in each of the six regions in the state.

Consortiums will work to assess the number of contact tracers needed in each area, help recruit contact tracers and ensure training and education is available, and coordinate information and data to ensure consistency within the region The consortiums will create a sustainable infrastructure that will support the growth of coordinated contact tracing efforts in each region, and will hopefully establish partnerships that could assist in other public health priorities moving forward. A regional approach grows existing community infrastructure and incorporates local knowledge, experience and connections. 

More information on the state’s contact tracing plan is available here. Those who would like to become a contact tracer, as either an individual or a group, can find information to sign up.

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As we navigate this health crisis together, I want to be as accessible as possible for your questions. Every Friday at 12pm, I will be live on Facebook to chat about what the state is doing to combat COVID-19. Join me! 

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