School openings hinge on case counts, health official warns

Marc Levy
The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Every region of Pennsylvania has seen an increase in the rate of positive coronavirus cases, and failing to stop that could jeopardize the reopening of schools for the fall semester, the state’s top health official said Thursday.

In addition, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the majority of counties have seen increases in the number of new cases.

“It’s critical to drive down the case counts now in terms of the rise of new cases in order to prepare for schools to reopen,” Levine said during a news conference Thursday. “If we don’t do that now, that would put that in jeopardy.”

In response to the rise in new cases, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration last week imposed a new round of restrictions targeting bars, restaurants, nightclubs and indoor gatherings to slow the virus’ spread.

Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine visit WellSpan York Hospital to thank health care workers and hospital staff for their essential role in protecting Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, July 22, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

More:West Shore schools to reopen wholly online, transition later

More:South Western to split students, stagger school days

In July, Pennsylvania’s 14-day rate of new cases per 100,000 residents has risen by more than 50%, from below 60 to 90.

The seven-day positivity rate — based on the Health Department’s daily public disclosures of the number of people who are newly confirmed to be positive and the number of people who tested negative — has gradually increased in July, from about 4.5% to 5.8%.

Deaths have declined in July, although hospitalizations are on the rise across the state, according to state data.

Schools throughout York County have struggled to create reopening plans amid new guidance and mask mandates.

West Shore's district this week became the first in the county to announce that it will reopen in August wholly online. That district's plan would phase students back into the classroom beginning in mid-September. 

Several other districts in the county intend to apply "hybrid" plans, combining online classes with in-person instruction. 

Officials at South Western School District, for example, intend to split students into groups and stagger the days those groups actually sit in the classroom. Under South Western's plan, students would spend no more than three days a week in a physical classroom.