PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the city announces a milestone in the COVID-19 vaccine, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has updated its recommendations on when schools should pause in-person learning due to cases.
Acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said Wednesday when one or two people in a school test positive, their close contacts should quarantine for up to 10 days, if they're unvaccinated.
If they're vaccinated, they don't need to quarantine, but they should get tested three to five days after that exposure, as long as they don't have any symptoms. They should also make sure to mask in public.
If three people in a class test positive, that class should pause in-person learning for 10 days.
If those three positive cases are in different grades or classrooms, the school should treat them like individual cases and just quarantine their close contacts, Bettigole said.
In the case where six or more people test positive in a grade, the school should call the health department immediately and discuss needing to pause in-person learning for the entire grade.
And if three or more grades are paused or more than 3% of the entire school community tests positive, the school should call the health department immediately and discuss needing to pause in-person learning for the entire school.
"This new guidance is less strict than our guidance before because we've seen that our other safety measures have been successful and containing spread, and because we're watching and learning from containment efforts in other places," Bettigole said. "We believe that it's possible to prevent wider spread of COVID in schools and keep kids in school."
Bettigole added this does not mean there won't be COVID-19 in the schools. She said community transmission is high enough that some students, staff and faculty will be exposed at home or outside of the school and could bring it in.
"But with daily symptoms screening, 100% masking, contact tracing and vaccinations, we can stop that person from spreading COVID to others while in school," Bettigole said.
She reiterated anyone who has COVID symptoms or doesn't feel well should stay home and get tested.
The department also changed its recommendations on screening testing. Schools are now asked to follow the CDC guidance to conduct weekly screening testing for unvaccinated students where possible.
Screening testing should also be offered to all teachers and staff who have not been fully vaccinated, no matter how much community transmission works, Bettigole said.
The city is also now including tests to stay as an option for schools.
"This means that schools could allow close contact with someone who test positive in school to avoid the need for quarantine if - and this is a big if - the school is able to offer frequent rapid testing, and the child test negative, every other day for a week," Bettigole said.
2 Million Vaccines
As of Wednesday, the City of Philadelphia and its partners have administered 2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Through snowstorms and heat waves and tornadoes, during the most difficult 18 months that many of us have worked through, we did someone something that no one thought was possible - 2 million vaccines in nine months," Bettigole said.
She continued, "I don't know that I'll ever be able to express enough gratitude to everyone who's contributed to this effort."
She thanked the Philadelphians who have worn their masks, socially distanced, stayed at home when they were sick, and most importantly, been vaccinated.
Bettigole said the city could see 70% of adults in Philadelphia fully vaccinated on or about Oct. 1.
"This has been an awful time, but seeing the city come together and literally roll up their sleeves to save lives is something we all should be proud of," Bettigole said.