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South Western closes schools for the week after multiple cases of COVID-19 confirmed

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
South Western High School in Penn Township, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

South Western School District will be shutting down for a week after its second COVID-19 case was confirmed, this one at Baresville Elementary, a school official said  Sunday night.

The district will be closed from Monday until Friday, with current plans to reopen the buildings on Sept. 8, Superintendent Jay Burkhart said in a statement.

Remote learning will resume for all students starting Tuesday.

Burkhart said the decision to shutter buildings for one week comes after reviewing guidelines from both the state Department of Health and Department of Education. 

South Western officials could not be reached for comment

Maggi Mumma, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said via email that while the state has provided recommendations and options for educational institutions, it remains up to school district officials to decide how to handle COVID-19 in the classroom.

"Ultimately, the decision to close a school is  the responsibility of the school district," Mumma said, adding that it is "somewhat complex" to determine if a student was in school while potentially contagious with COVID-19.

More:York City medical director: Uptick in COVID-19 cases a reason to 'worry'

More:Temple University announces 2-week halt of in-person classes

More:Northeastern confirms intermediate school staffer has COVID-19

On Wednesday, South Western School District announced it would be shutting down certain areas of its high school for 24 hours after its first case of COVID-19 was confirmed at that building. The confirmed individual was not present at school that day.

South Western isn't the only school district in York County to have confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Northeastern School District confirmed on Thursday that one of its staff members had tested positive. The employee works at Spring Forge Intermediate School but was not in school for the week, said Superintendent Stacey Sidle.

Northeastern officials advised anybody who might have come in contact with the employee to self quarantine for 14 days.

School districts have grappled with whether classes should remain in person or operate virtually.

In March, when the coronavirus outbreak started, school districts took measures to close schools and finish the spring semester virtually.

And since many colleges chose to resume in-person classes in the fall, many  across the state are seeing a steep jump in cases as a result of social gatherings.

Temple University in Philadelphia has halted in-person classes for two weeks after officials said new test results had pushed the number of active COVID-19 cases from the 58 reported Friday to 103 active cases Sunday.

University President Richard Englert said officials believe they are seeing “new cases that result from small social gatherings happening off campus."

Englert added that those reasons prompted the two-week “pause” for in-person classes and contact tracing.

“We are hopeful, of course, that we will be able to return to the full hybrid program in place at the start of the semester, but any such decision will be driven by the data and public health guidance available at the time," Englert said in a statement.

Mumma said COVID-19 case investigations for contact tracing take a considerable amount of time to complete due to different learning models being used by different schools. 

She said, for example, some hybrid models have kids in school for only a few days in the week, which can result in a delay of information.

"Obviously, it will take some time to link a case in a child to a school since there are different teaching models happening at the same time across the state," Mumma added.

Following the confirmed COVID-19 cases at South Western and Northeastern, Dr. Matt Howie, director of the York City Health Bureau, voiced his concerns, as August brought record-breaking COVID-19 case totals in the county.

“I do worry two, three weeks from now, what’s going to happen with the opening of schools,” Howie said last week.

As of Friday, York County over the previous seven days had ranked eighth in the state in its incidence rate per 100,000 people and ninth in its positivity rate, at about 50 and 5% respectively, according to state health department data.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.