State urges schools to return to hybrid learning Monday

WILMINGTON — Gov. John Carney, the Delaware Division of Public Health and the Delaware Department of Education urged Delaware schools Tuesday to return to hybrid instruction, a mix of remote and in-person learning, starting Monday.

Gov. Carney, DPH officials and DOE officials met with representatives from all 19 public school districts and every charter school during the last two weeks of December. They shared concerns and presented data regarding the low rate of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

“To demonstrate what every governor and every public health agency in the country and around the world knows, which is that schools are safer places,” Gov. Carney said at the state’s weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday. “Among the safest in our community.”

Schools have been operating via remote learning since Gov. Carney issued a stay-at-home advisory which went into effect Dec. 11. Most downstate school districts have said they would follow whatever Gov. Carney’s recommendation was for Monday, when the stay-at-home advisory expires.

This was in response to rising COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations during November and December. The state used a three-category school-reopening criteria, developed in August, to make these recommendations.

But on Tuesday, the DPH announced it is doing away with that data on its website, with DPH Director Dr. Rattay saying the state has a better understanding on community spread in schools now than it did in August. The dashboard has been replaced with a community spread dashboard (https://myhealthycommunity.dhss.delaware.gov/locations/state/coronavirus-weekly-summary) and a “in-person contagious” school dashboard (https://myhealthycommunity.dhss.delaware.gov/locations/state/in-person-contagious).

“We no longer believe that the reopening dashboard is an accurate reflection of the conditions in schools,” Dr. Rattay said. “In fact, what we saw in November and December when we had higher levels of community spread, although there were more cases of people who were affiliated with schools, we did not see more spread in the school setting. Really that was quite eye-opening.”

The in-person contagious dashboard on the state’s My Healthy Community data dashboard, records individuals “who were present at school as far back as 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms (or test date if no symptoms).”

The dashboard notes “the source of infection of these cases cannot be attributed to schools, nor is it known that they are the source of infection to others in schools.”

It was developed after feedback from school districts showed they wanted more data to help understand what is going on in school settings both cumulatively and by the week. The new dashboard can show in-person contagious cases by school district (public, charter or private).

Since it is just in-person contagious cases, there may be a difference between the data reported separately by individual school districts and the data presented in this dashboard. For instance, a staff member or student could test positive for COVID-19 but if they weren’t in school during the time they were contagious, they are not included in the new dashboard.

The new dashboard shows the Indian River School District with the most cumulative in-person contagious cases among students at 62 since Sept. 1. The Red Clay Consolidated School District had the most staff members with 61.

Dr. Rattay said there have been numerous studies showing COVID-19 spread is more likely at gatherings such as weddings, parties, playdates and funerals than in schools. She cited a Centers for Disease Control study of 400 students in Mississippi who tested positive, who did not get it from school, but other gatherings.

“Really showing what we’ve been seeing in Delaware, across the nation, across the world,” Dr. Rattay said. “We’re just not really seeing spread in the school setting.

Gov. Carney, Dr. Rattay and DOE Secretary Susan Bunting sent a letter to all school districts this week advising them of their recommendations.

“As we have said many times, we do not believe there is a public health reason to close schools,” said Gov. Carney, Dr. Rattay and Secretary Bunting, in the letter. “We have spent the past four weeks helping schools try to address the operational challenges they are experiencing. And we can all agree that students learn best when they’re in school. For all of these reasons, we are recommending that districts and schools make every effort to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 11.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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