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Schools get state guidance about handling COVID-19 outbreaks

MARK SCOLFORO
The Associated Press
FILE - In this July 14, 2020, file photo, amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, Alma Odong wears a mask as she cleans a classroom at Wylie High School in Wylie, Texas. The cost of bringing students back to classrooms is proving a major stumbling block to safely reopening schools across the U.S. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania state government agencies are providing school leaders with advice about how to respond when students or employees with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been on school property, from cleaning and tracing their contacts to shutting down buildings for two weeks or longer.

The Education and Health departments late Thursday notified school administrators of the recommended procedures, which depend on how many people are infected and how widespread the disease has been growing in their county.

School leaders had sought the advice as they plan for restarting instruction this fall, said Education Department spokesman Rick Levis.

“It’s additional guidance that we’re providing to the school districts because we recognize that they’re not medical professionals,” Levis said Friday.

In areas with low spread and just one case inside a school building over a 14-day period, the advice is to clean areas where the infected person has been and get public health agency assistance tracking their contacts.

More:Staring down reopening, Pa.'s educators beg state for direction

With a few more cases over the two-week period and moderate infection spread in the county, schools are advised to clean, trace contacts and close for five to seven days.

Schools that get five or more cases should close down for two weeks and the entire building should be cleaned, the Education and Health departments suggested.

The guidance says shutting down facilities “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.”

In areas where COVID-19 is considered to be at the “substantial” level of community spread, the agencies say schools should shut their doors and operate with a “full remote learning model.”

Schools should keep people out of areas where a sick person has been, including buses and vans, and wait 24 hours before directing custodial staff to clean and disinfect. Students should not take part in disinfecting.

Public health officials do not need to be notified every time someone exhibits symptoms, but those people should be isolated and sent home with a referral to get medical attention, the state agencies said.