EAST ROCKHILL — District officials are reminding the school community to take precautions after a Pennridge High School student attended classes at the school the day before getting back test results showing the student has COVID-19.
“Obviously, there are a couple real common sense ways to help lessen the impact on the Pennridge community, obviously wearing face coverings, as well as continuing to monitor for symptoms if you have any of the symptoms,” Superintendent David Bolton said in a phone interview, “and if you have any of the symptoms to please make sure that you stay away from school and other public gatherings and consider contacting your medical provider.”
The student contracted the virus while traveling out of state on Aug. 26, had mild symptoms and was tested on Aug. 28 and has been asymptomatic since Sept. 1, Pennridge High School Principal Steve Cashman said in a Sept. 5 email to staff and families of students. The student attended classes on Thursday, Sept. 3, Cashman said.
The student's family received the test results the following day and the school district was notified, Bolton said.
“The student is now feeling fine and is under a doctor's care,” Cashman wrote in his email.
The school district worked with the Bucks County Department of Health to determine other students who were in direct contact with the student and called those families on the night of Friday, Sept. 4, but were not able to immediately reach some of the families, then followed up with an email to the families, Bolton said. The Department of Health contacted the families on Saturday, Sept. 5 and Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7, giving the families additional information, such as the next steps to be taken, he said. All of the families had been contacted by Sept. 7, he said.
The schools were closed Friday, Sept. 4 and Monday, Sept. 7 for Labor Day and the high school has a launch day the first day of each school week, which this week was Tuesday, Sept. 8, Bolton said. On launch days, there are very few students at the high school, he said.
“Almost all students are at home having all of their classes remotely,” he said Sept. 8.
Students who were in the high school Sept. 3 under the hybrid schedule would not be in the school again until Thursday, Sept. 10, he said.
Bolton did not say how many students were determined to have come in direct contact at school with the student who tested positive.
“Because of our safety protocols, that was a small number,” he said.
“We are very thankful for the Pennsylvania and the Bucks County Department of Health and we are continuing to work with them regarding all of our medical decisions involved in our health and safety plan,” Bolton said.
No school or classroom closures are planned as a result of the student having tested positive.
The email from Cashman included a copy of a portion of the Bucks County Health Department School Reopening Guidance, which is also posted on the school district website. The frequently asked questions format included:
If there is a confirmed positive case in a student or staff member, do we have to shut down the classroom and/or the school?
No, that is absolutely not our recommendation. The preponderance of current evidence continues to suggest that children are less likely to be infected, less likely to have severe symptoms, and are at lower risk of spreading the disease to others. This has also been the situation so far in Bucks County case investigations. As COVID-19 will likely be with us for an extended period of time, and given that all school districts will almost certainly have cases, we want school districts to begin treating it similarly to the way we have successfully handled other communicable diseases in our schools, including pertussis (whooping cough), measles, strep throat, mumps, influenza, and meningitis. It is our strong intention to keep all classrooms, schools, and districts open, in the event of confirmed cases of COVID-19. One closure decision can lead to a potentially crippling, and precedent setting, domino effect of closures throughout the school district, and in other districts. We will work in conjunction with the principal and/or the superintendent on next steps for efforts to continue school/classroom activities without sending all contacts home. Depending on the situation, this may involve simply conducting enhanced surveillance for signs and symptoms and increasing sanitation and hygiene in the affected areas. Multiple cases may involve modifications to social distancing or mask usage.
If a student or staff member is confirmed positive, what are the steps to follow?
The Bucks County Health Department should be notified immediately, if we were not already aware. As part of all COVID-19 case investigations, information will be quickly obtained from the student or staff member as to their close contacts since the onset of their symptoms. The actual nature of the contacts will be explored in detail, and multiple variables (i.e. was the case actually symptomatic during school or did the case only develop illness at home) will be considered. We expect the school districts will provide information to assist our contact tracing efforts as much as possible. Once the information has been gathered, students and staff considered close contacts to the case (if any) will be notified of their exposure, using as little identifying information about the case as possible. Any mitigation steps will then be evaluated by the school and the health department as explained in question #1.