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Philadelphia's Health Department No Longer Recommending Pauses To In-Person Learning For City Schools

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Philadelphia Health Department is changing COVID-19 guidelines for schools. The health department says it's an attempt to keep schools open for in-person instruction.

"Today, we will be posting new guidelines for city schools," Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said.

A major change in the way the Philadelphia Health Department will be handling temporary school closures in the city due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The school district was sent a letter outlining the changes.

"Given the current widespread community transmission occurring at this time, we will no longer use sing case numbers to determine when to pause in-person learning," Bettigole said. "Instead, students will continue in-person learning unless staff absences due to COVID-19 isolation or quarantine require a temporary pause."

The city had been using metrics and case counts to determine if a school would need to pause in-person learning. At the onset of the pandemic, a school seeing 3% of its population with in-school community spread would be paused. It moved to 10% in recent months.

Now, with soaring COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible omicron variant, those same metrics will no longer be used.

Health officials are also straying from the CDC's shortened five-day isolation period for those who have had the virus, saying many older school buildings in Philadelphia may not make it safe enough to return in that time frame.

"In adapting this guidance for Philadelphia, the return after five days is unduly risky for many schools," Bettigole said. "Unfortunately, Philadelphia schools suffer from an unfair and unjust state funding formula that means that many of the layers of mitigation recommended by the CDC cannot be attained at all schools."

In schools that can't provide mitigating factors like proper ventilation, contact tracing, safe social distancing, testing and strict masking, a 10-day isolation period will still be required.

These changes do take effect immediately, so these are the guidelines schools will now be using moving forward.

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