Wolf: School districts face tough choices as start of classes loom

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at Lancaster Health Center on Friday, 7/24/20 (Office of the Governor)

As Pennsylvania sees rising numbers in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Tom Wolf admitted school districts are in a very tight spot.

“Whatever we do,” Wolf said Friday during a joint appearance in Lancaster with state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. “School openings in each school district are going to depend on the confidence that the parents and the teachers and the administration and the students have.”

Wolf admitted that districts aren’t facing an easy decision.

“We’re not facing a good choice and a bad choice, it’s two bad choices,” he said.

Everyone is juggling two issues right now, he explained. First, they have to deal with the virus and try to keep it from spreading. Second, are the needs of the kids. He admitted he’s not an expert on pedagogy.

“But what I do know is that we need our kids to get an education,” he said.

With the start of the new school year just weeks away, Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have begun announcing their reopening plans. 

Some are going with hybrid models while others are going strictly online. Many are still trying to figure out what route to take.

Levine was asked about the importance of the 6-foot guideline for safe social distancing. 

“We want them to do everything they possibly can to protect the children and the teachers in schools,” she said.

Wolf and Levine traveled to Lancaster Health Center Friday, where Wolf said workers  “have gone out of their way to reach minority and vulnerable populations. That includes the Latino community through targeted bilingual outreach and advocacy tailored to hispanic culture.”

Pennsylvania is starting to see more COVID-19 cases, including an increase in the number of young people who are testing positive for the disease, according to the Department of Health.

With 1,213 new COVID-19 cases reported on Friday, according to a department press release. That’s the highest number of new cases since early May.The department broke down the cases by region to show the increases in the 19 to 24-year-old age group. 

For example, in the southwestern part of the state, that demographic  has gone from 5 percent of cases in April to 20 percent of cases in July. The southeast part of the state went from 5 percent to 18 percent. Each region has seen an increase, with the lowest increase being in the south central part of the state, where it doubled from 7 percent to 14 percent.

The governor also urged residents to get tested if they have symptoms. 

He, Levine, and officials from the center stressed the importance of tracers who then figure out who has been in contact with anyone who tests positive.

Addressing restaurant and bar regulations, Levine said it’s all about stopping any increases from becoming spikes that spill out of control. Last week, officials ordered bars and restaurants to reduce their capacity. 

“You do not want to wait, it’s very difficult to control,” Levine said.

Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers northeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @PaddyAbs.