PA Issues Updated Mask Policy; Guidance for School Closure

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Department of Education has issued additional guidance for schools that covers closing due to positive COVID cases and updates the face covering policy.

(Photo: PA Education Secretary Pedro Rivera (Photo is a pre-COVID-19 photo). Photo is courtesy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

The new closing guidance gives parameters for when, and how long, schools should close if a student(s) or staff member(s) tests positive for COVID-19. The face covering update further limits when students may remove their face coverings during school.

Under the updated guidance, “schools may allow students to remove face coverings when students are:

  • Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart; or
  • When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task; or
  • At least 6 feet apart during ‘face-covering breaks’ to last no longer than 10 minutes.”

Previously, students could remove their face covering if they were able to maintain six feet of physical distance.

The Warren County School District has updated its FAQ page on its website to reflect this change, though the specifics of “face-covering breaks” still need to be worked out.

Schools were given specifics for how to deal with students or staff members testing positive for COVID-19.

“When a case of COVID-19 is identified in a school setting, public health staff from DOH or the County or Municipal Health Department (CMHD) will work with school administrators to provide guidance and advice related to cleaning and disinfecting, contact tracing and quarantine recommendations, and closing certain areas of the school or the entire school building if necessary,” a statement from the Department of Education said.

Schools can base a closing decision on community transmission (low, moderate, substantial) and the number of positive cases in each building within a 14-day period.

“This allows public health staff the necessary time to complete case investigations and contact tracing, and to provide schools with other appropriate public health advice like cleaning and disinfecting” the Department of Education statement said.

In the “substantial” category, both the Department of Health and Department of Education recommend full remote learning for every student. Length of closure within the “low” and “moderate” categories will be based on the number of cases.

Schools do not need to close for a single case, based on the recommendations, though people who have come in close contact may need to quarantine.

If there are between two and four cases, or less than five percent of total number of students and staff in the building, or if there are multiple school buildings with individual cases who are not in household contact, then schools in the “low” category will need to close for three to five days and five to seven days in the “moderate” category.

Schools will need to close for 14 days, regardless of whether they are in the “low” or “moderate” category, if there are more than five cases in a single building, or if five percent or more of the total number of students and staff in the same building are cases, or if there are multiple buildings with between two and four cases who are not in household contact.