Area COVID Rates Rise Above PDE and DOH Safety Threshold

Significant community spread in Blair, Huntingdon and Centre Counties is above the recommended threshold for in-person learning.

The+number+of+cases+in+the+three+counties+that+make+up+the+Tyrone+Area+School+District+have+risen+dramatically+over+the+past+few+weeks.

screenshot from PA COVID early warning dashboard https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Monitoring-Dashboard.aspx

The number of cases in the three counties that make up the Tyrone Area School District have risen dramatically over the past few weeks.

Central Pennsylvania has seen a significant spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. So much so that the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association released a statement today calling on school districts in counties with a “substantial” level of community spread (100 or more incidents per 100,000 or a 10 percent or higher positivity rate), to operate with a “full remote learning model.”

Reaction to the rise in cases among local school districts has been varied, with some districts continuing with full-time in-person instruction, while others have moved to either hybrid or fully online instruction.

We must follow these guidelines to the letter. It’s the best way for us to slow the spread of this virus and keep our students, staff, and their families safe”

— PSEA President Rick Askey

“The state departments of Health and Education developed these guidelines based on good science and what the infection rates are in a school’s community,” PSEA President Rich Askey said. “We must follow these guidelines to the letter. It’s the best way for us to slow the spread of this virus and keep our students, staff, and their families safe.”

The Tyrone Area School District is made up of students from three counties, Blair, Huntingdon, and Centre. All three counties are currently above the 100 incident per 100,000 residents threshold for substantial community spread.

Blair County has been particularly hard hit by the virus, showing a substantial increase in infection rates reported just last week. Last week Blair county’s incidence rate per 100,000 residents was 138.8, this week it jumped to 266.1.

Infection rates in Huntingdon County are even higher, up slightly this week from 312.2 to 332.1.

Centre County is the only one of the counties that make up the TASD with a falling rate, down from 171.4 to 145.6 this week, but still over the 100 mark.

Under these guidelines, schools in all three counties are above the threshold that recommends full online instruction.

The state has not mandated school closures since May, instead deferring to each school district to develop their own response to COVID-19 cases, based on guidelines provided by the state departments of Health and Education.

So far, reaction to the spike in cases among local schools has been mixed, ranging from a continuation of full in-person instruction to fully online instruction.

Blair County Schools

Tyrone’s neighbor to the south, the Bellwood-Antis School District, recently reported two middle school students and one high school student have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the quarantine of dozens of students and several teachers.

The Bellwood School Board discussed the spike in cases at its regular November School Board meeting on Tuesday and decided to stay with five days a week in-person instruction.

“Up until now, it has been all around us, but it is now hitting us. We know the best place for the kids is in school. My recommendation is to stay with the five days a week until conditions warrant (otherwise),” Bellwood Superintendent Thomas McInroy said.

In Altoona, the rising numbers of cases have caused Altoona High School to change its plans for the return of its high school students to the newly completed high school building.

Altoona students began the year remotely due to COVID related construction delays at the new high school building. Students were scheduled to begin full-time instruction this week, but the district instead decided to move to a hybrid model of instruction.

The Hollidaysburg Area School Board has delayed its return to full-time, in-person learning.

In a letter released on November 5, Hollidaysburg Superintendent Robert Gildea informed students that they would remain in a hybrid model through Thanksgiving break due to the recent spike in local COVID-19 cases.

“The hybrid model is not an ideal instructional model,” Gildea said. “However, with current ‘substantial’ COVID conditions, the health and safety of our students and staff must take precedent.”

The Spring Cove School District has been open for full-time in-person instruction since August.

The Morrison’s Cove Herald reported today that the Spring Cove superintendent informed parents that an individual who has tested positive for COVID and may have exposed a very limited number of our students and staff, but no further information was provided.

Centre County Schools

To Tyrone’s north, the State College Area School District was fully remote at the beginning of the school year but moved to a hybrid instruction model on September 21 following a spike in cases at Penn State University.

According to recent media reports, the district is currently experiencing a shortage of substitute teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and food service workers due to COVID-19.

Huntingdon County Schools

The Juniata Valley School District in Huntingdon County had been in school full time but canceled in-person classes for November 12 and 13th due to infections among the staff.

The Huntingdon Area School District administration went to full remote learning on October 26 due to rising cases in the Huntingdon area.

On November 10 the district released a statement that the elementary school would return to in-person instruction and the high school and middle school would go to a bended/hybrid instructional model beginning on November 16.

Tyrone Area School District

Tyrone began the school year with full-time instruction in elementary school and hybrid in middle and high school. Middle and high school students returned to full-time instruction on October 19.

Since then Tyrone has had several positive COVID cases among students and staff. Yesterday Tyrone reported a second case in the elementary school. On November 7th, Tyrone reported that an adult staff member in the Middle School tested positive for COVID 19.

Tyrone seems to be preparing for the possibility of a return to online instruction with a “Virtual Practice Day” planned for next Thursday in the high school.

However, according to Tyrone student school board representative Lucia Isenberg, nothing regarding any potential change to the instructional model at Tyrone was discussed at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.