Dr. Thomas Farley

Philly Faces ‘Dangerous Period' of Virus Spread, But It Stayed Out of Most Schools

44 schools with some form of in-person learning have seen cases in students or staff. Of those 44, just one had evidence of viral spread within the school.

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What to Know

  • All Philly ZIP codes have seen recent increases in coronavirus spread, due to social gatherings and spread within a home or family, city health officials say.
  • Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said there is little evidence of COVID-19 spreading within schools where students and staff are present in-person.
  • But one Philly school has seen cases from spread in the classroom, and switched to remote learning after 15 people tested positive for the virus.

The coronavirus is spreading more across Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, but recent case increases are mostly unconnected to the schools that are open, city health officials said.

Despite that, one Philly school recently switched to remote learning after an outbreak of 15 cases.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley on Tuesday raised concern about rising virus cases in households, and some from family gatherings and workplaces. He also wondered if pandemic fatigue played a part while noting the city has confirmed 268 new cases of the virus in city residents since Monday, for a total of 40,704 since the beginning of the epidemic.

"We may be entering a dangerous period with this virus," Farley said, also warning that the coronavirus may follow the pattern of other respiratory viruses, where case counts tend to peak around January or February.

"The risk is increasing now maybe because of the colder weather, maybe because of the drier air, because people are indoors more because of the colder weather, or maybe because people are becoming more complacent," Farley said. "Or, all those things combined."

Besides in-household spread, social events with family, or weddings and other events that may have been postponed because of the spring coronavirus lockdown, spread among co-workers is part of the increase, the city's contact tracers have found.

The biggest risk in a workplace is in the breakroom or dining area, when co-workers might be eating, and therefore not wearing masks.

"It's just a reminder that any setting indoors, when close together not wearing masks, such as a time where you're getting together at lunch, it's going to be a high-risk setting," Farley said.

Cases in 44 Schools

While cases are rising generally, strict safety practices have likely limited the spread of the virus in most schools - except for one where an outbreak infected 15 people.

The Philadelphia School had an outbreak of 15 cases of the virus, Farley said. According to WHYY, the private school switched to remote learning and said in-person learning would not resume until Oct. 27 at the earliest.

Out of all the schools in the city that have in-person learning right now, 43 have seen virus cases, Farley said. Most schools have only one case, but some have multiple. Of the 44 with cases, 26 went into some sort of quarantine as advised by the health department. Those quarantine orders have generally extended to one classroom.

The Philadelphia School is the only school with evidence of spread within a classroom and Farley believes that other schools may not see spread within.

“I’m hopeful that there was some slip-up there that was not a consistent slip-up, and I’m still feeling that the school system if they follow the safety precautions, can do so [open for in-person] safely,” he added.

To keep things safe, everyone in the schools is required to wear masks and follow other guidelines about handwashing, distancing, and staying home if feeling ill.

If the city's public schools can take all those precautions, in-person learning could happen safely, Farley said. The School District of Philadelphia wants to bring back students in late November.

For now, public school students are learning at home, some with help from a city program that provides a free wired internet connection or a wireless hotspot.

“It’s important for children to be in school, for their long-term health and their short-term mental health. Having talked to some people who have their children back to school they say the children’s mental health has brightened up tremendously getting back to school," said Farley.

"We also, we have a lot of other health problems in this city, up to homicides, and having children not in school, having teenagers not in schools doesn’t help in those problems.”

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