Coronavirus PA: Montgomery County officials voting today on schools going all-virtual for two weeks around Thanksgiving holiday

NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — The Montgomery County Office of Public Health said they will now vote today at noon on whether to start two weeks of virtual-only school beginning November 23.

The vote was originally scheduled for Thursday morning.

If they vote to do so, all schools K-12 in the county would go 100% virtual with the expectation that hybrid learning would resume on December 6.

On Thursday, health officials held a zoom call that allowed for public comment. More than 500 participants tuned in to watch.

“I just can’t even imagine telling the children that they can’t be in school because I’ll cry and I know that they will so if you just keep that in mind,” said Sister Mary Catherine Chapman of Queen of Angels School in Willow Grove.

During the more than 2-hour public comment portion of the meeting, dozens of parents were begging health officials to allow school districts to make their own decisions.

Some parents argue that COVID hasn’t rampantly spread between school students and the drawbacks are more severe than the advantages.

“I can guarantee you that my son and his future will suffer if you do this, and that’s reality,” said Kaitlin Derstine, a parent.

That’s how how Sarah Parmer feels. Her 6-year-old daughter, Luna, has autism and goes to a specialized school.

“Please don’t make this a one-size fits all decision, because it not,” said Parmer.

One Montgomery County school district isn’t waiting for this afternoon’s vote.

The Methacton School District has alerted parents that all students will shift to virtual learning starting on Monday, and continuing through December 6.

Doctor David Rubin, the Director of Policy lab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that middle and high school students are seeing more COVID-19 spread.

“The rates of infections are much higher in kids in middle and high school there surpassing the rates of either in young adults right now,” said Rubin.

He said traveling sports contribute to spread the virus, and schools should consider the benefits and drawbacks for virtual education depending on age range and specialized therapies if needed.

“There could be a bridge plan. You keep your elementary kids going and you keep your special needs kids in school as well because that’s really important. Then, you think about it, you could do a strategy where you keep your middle schoolers and high schoolers on virtual through the holiday season,” said Rubin.

Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement Thursday saying in part: “The goal of this two-week return to 100% virtual education, which includes the Thanksgiving holiday and for most students equates to 8 days of virtual learning, is to help ensure that students, teachers and staff exposed to COVID-19 over the holiday have a week to learn that they have been exposed while still at home and out of the school environment. The success of this effort will hinge on all involved saying no to private social gatherings. I want to make clear that the goal of this proposed order is to increase the chances that in person school will be able to continue. By reducing the number of individuals who come to school with the coronavirus we maximize the chances that the excellent work that schools have been doing to limit in school transmission will continue to be successful.”

The meeting was held the same day Pennsylvania reported its highest daily increase of positive COVID-19 cases.

On Thursday, the Department of Health confirmed 5,488 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 248,856.

The number of tests administered within the last 7 days between November 5 and November 11 is 331,492 with 25,702 positive cases. There were 50,997 test results reported to the department through 10 p.m., November 11. This is a record high number of PCR test results reported to the department, officials said.

The department reported 49 new deaths. The total number of deaths in Pennsylvania attributed to COVID-19 stands at 9,194.

There are 7,189 individuals who have a positive viral antigen test and are considered probable cases and 645 individuals who have a positive serology test and either COVID-19 symptoms or a high-risk exposure.

There are 2,506,649 individuals who have tested negative to date.

Of those who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows:

– Approximately 1% are ages 0-4;
– Approximately 2% are ages 5-12;
– Approximately 5% are ages 13-18;
– Nearly 13% are ages 19-24;
– Approximately 36% are ages 25-49;
– Approximately 21% are ages 50-64; and

– Approximately 20% are ages 65 or older.

There are 2,080 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19. Of that number, 438 patients are in the intensive care unit with COVID-19. Most of the patients hospitalized are ages 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older. More data is available here.

The department has seen significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases among younger age groups, particularly 19 to 24-year-olds.

In nursing and personal care homes, there are 28,142 resident cases of COVID-19, and 5,932 cases among employees, for a total of 34,077 at 1,126 distinct facilities in 63 counties. Out of the total deaths, 5,922 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

Approximately 13,202 of our total cases are among health care workers.

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