Wolf administration recommends elementary students return to campuses, discusses COVID-19 variant

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HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and Department of Education Acting Secretary Noe Ortega discussed COVID-19 in the commonwealth and updates to instructional model recommendations on Thursday.

Ortega announced the recommendation for elementary school students to return to campus for in-person learning. This will begin for the second half of the school year in the state, typically beginning on January 25.

While this is just a recommendation from the Departments of Health and Education, Ortega says the ultimate decision is up to school officials who are best fit to make decisions for children.

Fully remote learning remains recommended for middle and high schools in the substantial level counties.

All schools should continue to have strategies in place to limit the number of people in classrooms and learning spaces, including teachers and students. Further, schools should have protocols for distance in classrooms, and maintain that distance throughout the school day.

Additionally, K-12 schools may consider resuming in-person instruction for targeted populations including students with disabilities and English learners, regardless of current instructional models.

Again, the department’s emphasized this is only a recommendation to better fit school communities, young learners and target populations. This recommendation is focused for elementary schools.

With the new COVID-19 strain from the U.K in Pennsylvania, the departments will continue to update their dashboard which include age ranges. Dr. Levine said they will be watching that strain very carefully and update recommendations as fit.

Dr. Levine also said the new strain in Pennsylvania was travel-related. The variant will be expected to show up in all states. The Department of Health is doing the genetic research necessary to detect this strain.

Officials in the state are sending samples from state laboratories to the CDC for genetic analysis, and then will develop protocols to do the genetic analysis in the Department of Health’s lab in Exton.

There is no evidence at this time that this variant is a dominant strain, but nationally, experts will be watching for that dominance.

Vaccine experts anticipate there will be no difficulty for the vaccine to produce an immunity response that will prevent this strain. Those tests will be on going by vaccine manufacturers, but there is confidence the vaccine will protect against this variant.

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