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'Quickly Becoming Catastrophic Situation': CHOP's PolicyLab Recommending All Schools In Philadelphia Region Go To Virtual Learning By Monday

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is recommending that all schools in the region go to all virtual learning by Monday. The government advisory group also says businesses and restaurants should reinstitute limits on gatherings.

This is just a recommendation but PolicyLab, which monitors and tracks the spread of COVID-19, says officials need to take action now to prevent a crisis.

"This is quickly becoming a catastrophic situation," said Dr. David Rubin with CHOP's PolicyLab.

Rubin says their models show dramatic increases in COVID-19 cases throughout the Philadelphia region that could overwhelm hospitals.

"This is literally about getting through the winter season so that we are not facing crises of people not being able to gain access to the emergency department," Rubin said.

Rubin says there is now evidence the virus is circulating in schools to students who have mild cases, but they're primary spreaders. That's prompted the PolicyLab to recommend all schools in the region go to virtual learning by Monday, Nov. 16 -- no more in-person schooling until the first of the year.

"This is something that we can coordinate with our holiday season to minimize the potential harms of this period as we try to navigate through what is going to be the worst part of this pandemic," Rubin said.

The PolicyLab uses government data for modeling that helps direct the federal coronavirus task force as well as local governments.

"We need to act quickly," Rubin said.

Teaching through a pandemic has many teachers nervous.

"I'm very nervous. A lot of teachers that I've spoken to, they're nervous. They don't necessarily agree with going back," said a South Jersey teacher who asked to remain anonymous.

The anonymous teacher agrees with the PolicyLab's recommendation.

"I do miss the kids. I miss connecting with them and seeing them, but I know even when I do that it's not going to be the same," she said.

She's currently back in the classroom teaching virtually. Students are slated to return to the classroom Monday, but she's thinking that may soon change.

"If you open and then kids or somebody gets exposed, now you're closing down the school for a couple weeks, and then you go back and it gets closed again," the teacher said.

The Cherry Hill School District says students will begin in-person learning beginning Tuesday, Nov. 17.

A spokesperson says they were given the green light to do so after speaking with the Department of Health and executive county superintendent.

The PolicyLab also says there should be renewed restrictions on businesses.

"We're recommending that employers move as many of their employees as possible back to alternate work arrangements," Rubin said. "We are recommending gathering size limitations with enforcement, particularly for businesses."

New Jersey has already imposed some new limits on gatherings, Delaware is considering actions, while Pennsylvania officials have been reluctant.

Rubin believes Pennsylvania should impose new restrictions.

"I do. I think we need to get everyone to, not just the state, but all of our communities," Rubin said. "And as a community, I think we can get through this, I really do, but it's gonna take a lot of work."

PolicyLab's projects are among the factors many officials have used to make decisions on restrictions.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has called a press conference for Thursday morning.

CBS3's Stephanie Stahl and Kimberly Davis contributed to this report.


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