Thomas Farley

Philadelphia Department of Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley at a press conference Thursday where he announced the city’s ban on large gatherings.

— Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman

In an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, city officials have banned any activities and events where 1,000 or more people could gather, and they are discouraging residents and businesses from holding events where 250 or more people could gather for the next 30 days.

Philadelphia public schools are excluded from that guidance and will remain open.

“We are not today recommending, at this point, the closing of schools in the city of Philadelphia,” said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. “Here’s why: Children are not at great risk of infection. They are not at a great risk for acquiring it or transmitting the virus.”

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School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said the decision to keep Philadelphia’s schools open was based on Farley’s determination that the current level of threat to students and teachers has not reached a “red line” where that decision is necessary.

“Safety of our students and staff is our highest priority,” Hite said. “We will continue to work with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to receive guidance on measures we can and should take to minimize the risk of COVID-19 in our schools and our offices. And it’s important to note that the School District of Philadelphia does not have any suspected or known case of coronavirus.”

Their announcement came shortly after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the closure of schools and other facilities in neighboring Montgomery County, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus. More than half of the confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state are in Montgomery County.

While there have been no cases of coronavirus reported in Philadelphia schools, Hite acknowledged a report that a teacher at the Randolph School was sent home after they told the principal that they had come in contact with an infected relative.

Hite also said there are indirect benefits to keeping the schools open that had nothing to do with the decision. Among them is that many students come from single-parent homes, and those homes don’t have the flexibility or resources to take care of children at home.

“There are homeless children who don’t have shelter. When schools are in, it’s seven hours of shelter,” Hite said. “And when schools are out, some children don’t get medication. That’s very different from a Montgomery County.”

While the schools are open, they are taking extra steps to prevent coronavirus from spreading. Earlier this week, administrators distributed containers of hand sanitizer to all students and faculty. Administrators also have assigned more cleaning personnel to provide extra cleaning of common areas and touchpoints such as banisters and doorknobs.

“To the general public I would say, this is an opportunity to really take this seriously,” Farley said. “If you are sick, stay home and stay away from other people. And if you have symptoms, and you have traveled to places where the virus has been reported, or if you have been in contact with someone who has been infected, contact your physician and get tested.”

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