'Tripledemic': Philly schools looking at data to determine if masks will return after holidays

"One of those measures is that we may consider requiring masking for a time period after returning from extended breaks."

Wednesday, December 14, 2022
How the 'tripledemic' is impacting children
EMBED <>More Videos

"We're seeing all these viruses at once. It just means we're seeing children sicker, much sicker than usual, and just sicker in greater numbers."

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The ongoing "tripledemic" of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza (flu) and coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across the U.S. and in the Philadelphia region.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, multiple regions of the country are "nearing seasonal peak levels" for RSV. Meanwhile, the CDC also notes that flu activity is "high across the country" with "at least 13 million illnesses" this season so far, and COVID cases have risen in the month of December, bringing total cases to over 99 million as of last Friday.

The latest CDC data shows COVID hospitalizations rose in the last week across Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

Last week, Pennsylvania averaged 177 COVID hospital admissions per day; 183 in New Jersey; and 15 in Delaware.

Action News spoke with Kendra McDow, the medical officer for the School District of Philadelphia, on Monday about the 'tripledemic' in the region, what the district is seeing in its schools and how it plans to combat potential outbreaks.

McDow said as the national trends show an increase in RSV, flu and COVID cases, she has not seen any high number of absentees across the district.

She said a couple of months ago, when RSV was trending up in Philadelphia, there was an increase in absenteeism at the individual school level but not across the district.

McDow said it looks now like RSV levels are peaking nationally and in the city, amid flu and COVID cases.

As the 'tripledemic' weighs on the minds of parents, students, and staff, the School District of Philadelphia's "General COVID-19 Protocol for the 2022-2023 School Year" remains in place.

The policy, which called for masking in schools for the first 10 days of the school year back in August and September, may lead to masks returning after the holidays.

The policy states masking may be required "upon return from extended breaks and holidays when increased social gathering may heighten the risk of exposure to COVID-19."

"One of the features of the COVID policy, because of the increased risk of COVID spread in the school after returning from winter holidays, the seasonality we're starting to see around COVID, one of those measures is that we may consider requiring masking for a time period after returning from extended breaks," McDow said.

She said the district is still looking at the data to make that decision. She did note that they have seen increases in self-reported COVID-19 cases in students and staff, which is following national trends.

"We will make sure we are proactive to protect our students and staff," McDow said. "Most importantly to make sure that we are reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the schools and we are able to keep kids in the classrooms so they can receive that very important in-person learning."

She said the district is continuing to keep its mitigation measures in place which include:

  • Masking for students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return to school for day 6 to day 10 of illness
  • Students and staff who are exposed also need to mask
  • Encourage handwashing, covering mouth and nose when coughing/sneezing
  • Hand sanitizer is provided in all buildings
  • If students and staff are feeling sick, it's recommended they stay home
  • All are encouraged to get COVID and flu vaccines
  • As for COVID testing, in-school testing is available for students who have consent on file.

    Testing is also available at these school-based locations Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

  • South Philadelphia High School 2101 S. Broad St.
  • Samuel Fels High School 5500 Langdon Street
  • Overbrook High School 5898 Lancaster Ave
  • MLK High School 6100 Stenton Ave.
  • Thomas Edison High School 151 West Luzerne Street
  • Starting on Monday (Dec. 12), students, staff and their families can pick up free over-the-counter at-home test kits at the above locations.

    "We're keeping in our testing measures, masking as needed, of course our cleaning and disinfection measures, and the promotion of vaccination," McDow said. "Internally, we are really focused on making sure parents are aware of resources so they can keep their families safe and themselves safe."

    There will be a townhall this week for parents and guardians surrounding these respiratory illnesses and the school policies. Clinicians with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will be part of the meeting.

    ----

    ABC News contributed to this report