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Philly health officials relax rules around school building closures and quarantines, recommend increased testing

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is relaxing its guidelines around student quarantines and building closures, increasing the number of cases of COVID-19 needed to trigger a pause to in-person learning.
At the same time, officials are asking the district to vastly expand the amount of COVID testing in school buildings by screening all unvaccinated students once a week. Now, the district tests only symptomatic students.
The new guidelines say that a class or cohort of 35 or fewer students should be quarantined if there are three or more cases, or four cases in a cohort of 100.
Under the new guidance, whole schools are only closed if 3% of the school population tested positive for the virus. That’s less strict than the previous guidance, which closed buildings when there were six cases regardless of the size of the student population.
Close contacts, which are defined as “someone who has been within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15+ minutes over 24 hours,” should be quarantined regardless of the number of cases in a class or cohort.
The less conservative guidance comes about four weeks into a school year that has seen COVID cases among students leading to the temporary closures of several school buildings.
Health department officials say that in most cases, administrators should reach out to the health department for further guidance.
The guidance was relaxed because “we’ve seen other safety measures have been successful in containing the spread” of the virus, said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole. “We believe it’s possible to prevent wider spread of COVID in schools and keep kids in school,” as long as other safety measures are strictly followed, including universal masking, contact tracing and vaccination.
It is also now recommending weekly “screening testing” of all unvaccinated students in areas where COVID-19 transmission is moderate, substantial, or high, a category that includes Philadelphia. Now, the school district is only testing symptomatic students.
The new guidelines on testing are meant to push the district to test more students than they are now — which has been a demand of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
“This is a difference,” said Bettigole.
This is a developing story.

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