The School District of Philadelphia has nixed plans to offer limited in-person learning for some students starting at the end of this month as the novel coronavirus cases surge in the city.
On Tuesday Superintendent William Hite said the district will “remain 100% virtual” until health officials deem the transition to in-person learning is safe.
Approximately 3,200 students in grades pre-kindergarten through second had signed up for the district's hybrid in-person learning model that was scheduled to begin on Nov. 30.
Hite gave no guarantees about whether those students would return to the classroom before the spring. The superintendent did not rule out accelerating the return of other students in higher grades and those with complex needs later.
“It’s all going to depend on the trends and cases and if, in fact, it’s safe to do so,” Hite said.
Hite’s decision came as Philadelphia marked its highest single-day coronavirus total -- 879 -- since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the city eight months ago. COIVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city has entered a “dangerous period” of the pandemic and expected more rapid increases in infections.
“This is possibly the worst period of the epidemic,” Farley said.
Through last week, the city averaged 515 positive COVID-19 cases a day, which is the highest since the city’s coronavirus peak in mid-April.
The city’s positivity rate, or percent of people testing positive for the virus, was 9.3% last week, the highest since May and a four-fold increase since September.
Philadelphia logged 12 more deaths from the virus.
Fueling this wave of the epidemic in the city are gatherings in households; small social gatherings, like football watch parties and birthday parties; workplaces; and restaurants with in-door dining, Farley said.
The colder weather, which is keeping people in doors, also is contributing to the increased risk for the virus. Mask wearing in the city also appears to be on the wane, especially in retail stores.
“I am concerned about the fact that there are clearly plenty of people in these stores not wearing masks,” Farley said.
The virus appears to have spread within three schools out of 95 that have ongoing in-person learning, such as charter schools, parochial schools and others.
Farley said he was “increasingly concerned” about the rapid increase in hospitalizations due to the virus, which have doubled within two weeks to 196 at the end of Oct. 25.
The health commissioner warned that city officials were considering putting in place new restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Farley warned that controlling the virus requires residents to work from home if possible; stay away from others unless it is necessary; and wear a mask around anyone who is not a member of your household.
With the holidays approaching, Farley recommended residents celebrate only with members of their immediate family.
The city could receive the first doses of vaccines for COVID-19 by the end of December, Farley estimated. Yet city officials lacked projections about how fast vaccine manufacturers could distribute the vaccines to.
Farley expected a vaccine to be rolled out in several phases, with individuals at the highest risk of contracting the virus to get the first doses.