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Emlen Elementary School Temporarily Switching To Virtual Learning Due To Rapid COVID-19 Transmission Rate

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia schools have only been open for two weeks, and COVID-19 is already impacting the school year. A city school is temporarily switching to virtual learning.

The Philadelphia Health Department works closely with the Philadelphia School District to recommend school closures or pauses in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks, but some parent organizations believe more can be done to make that information widely available.

Due to a rapid transmission rate of COVID-19 cases at Emlen Elementary School in Philadelphia, health officials recommended that in-person learning be paused to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

A total of eight cases were identified within the school community, leading to a 10-day pause for in-school classes and activities.

The Philadelphia Department of Health's pediatric partnerships team works closely with the school district to get the word out when outbreaks occur.

Dr. Gail Carter Hamilton is director of the pediatric branch of the COVID-19 containment division for the Philadelphia Department of Health.

"We really looked to prevent what we consider to be in-school spread," Hamilton said.

Health officials say the guidance is clear. Six cases in schools within the 14-day incubation period and they would recommend a pause.

"So when the schools call use to say, 'Hey, we have six, should we close?' We're looking at a number of things, most importantly, were those six individuals in the building during their infectious period," Hamilton said.

The message to the affected students, staff and community is immediate.

"We have a template letter that we provide to the school district school or charter school, or private school if you will, that indicates just a basic general overview of what the landscape of the positive cases in that school was," Hamilton said.

"I think it's transparency, more so than anything," Philadelphia Home School Council President Shakeda Gaines said.

Gaines represents a group of concerned parents who don't believe the school district is disseminating information as openly as possible. She wants more outlets for quicker outbreak information.

"We don't know what the status is of how they work around this," Gaines said.

So far, health officials say three schools, including Lindley Academy Charter School, have had to be closed because of a cluster of COVID cases, but they do believe their messaging and mitigating factors are working overall, considering there are 526 public, private and charter schools within city limits.

Emlen Elementary School will reopen on Sept. 24.

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