PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Philadelphia Health Department has posted new guidance about when schools should pause in-person learning due to COVID-19.
After looking at COVID-19 transmission rates within Philadelphia schools and taking into account how other places are handling outbreaks within school settings, the Philadelphia Department of Health has introduced sweeping changes to its protocol as it relates to student testing and school closures.
"Today we are posting new guidance on screening in schools and when schools should pause in-person learning due to COVID," Acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.
There are major changes as it relates to COVID testing and the parameters surrounding closing schools due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Philadelphia Department of Health announced these revisions during a press briefing Wednesday morning. There's also a big change as it relates to younger unvaccinated students being tested.
"We've changed our recommendations on screening testing. And we are now asking that schools follow the CDC's guidance to conduct weekly screening testing for unvaccinated students where possible," Bettigole said.
Students 12 and under are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine but could have a vaccine available to them by the end of October.
So far, as many as five Philadelphia schools have closed due to COVID outbreaks. Now health officials are revamping criteria surrounding how those closures will now be determined.
"If three people in a class test positive that class should pause in-person learning for 10 days. In the case where six or more people test positive in a certain grade, the school should call the Health Department immediately and discuss needing to pause in-person learning for the entire grade," Bettigole said.
Health officials say the new guidelines are less strict and should allow for more schools to remain open without compromising anyone's health.
"Previously, we had a blanket six cases within a school would prompt a closure, but what we were finding was that didn't fit all landscapes for every school," said Gail Carter-Hamilton with the Department of Health.
Revised quarantine standards, vigorous contact tracing efforts and mandatory masking round out the health department's guidelines, which coincide with the CDC. They admit even these new guidelines are fluid as health officials continue to gauge an ever-changing virus and its variants.
The Health Department is touting very little community spread so far within the nearly 530 Philadelphia schools. They believe these new guidelines will help to keep students and staff safe and schools open, even with some positive cases.
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