- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2020

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware schools are “safe places” and should continue with a mix of in-person and virtual instruction despite a statewide spike in coronavirus cases, Gov. John Carney said Tuesday.

During his weekly COVID-19 briefing, Carney said the number of new cases was “off the charts” compared with numbers in late summer. He noted hospitalizations as of Monday have more than doubled since the start of November.

But the Democratic governor’s administration has taken issue with decisions by some school districts in central Delaware to move to remote learning, rather than a hybrid approach of online and in-person classes.

The districts’ decisions were based on trends in the number of new COVID-19 cases, average daily hospitalizations and the percentage of positive tests in Kent County.

Under school reopening guidelines on a state COVID-19 dashboard, those criteria are combined to define “green light, yellow light, red light” scenarios indicating minimal spread of the virus, minimal-to-moderate spread and significant spread. A green scenario allows for in-person instruction, while yellow calls for a hybrid model of remote learning and in-person classes. Under the red scenario, schools would close and instruction would be virtual only.

Statewide, the number of new cases per 100,000 people has been in the red zone for the past five weeks, suggesting significant community spread of the virus. But the other two categories have remained in the yellow zone, which equates to minimal-to-moderate spread and suggests hybrid learning is still in order.

In Kent County, however, the case rate per 100,000 people and the positivity rate have both climbed into the red zone. Given that two of the three factors suggest significant community spread, local school officials decided to suspend in-person classes in some districts.

Carney said he believes school districts should continue hybrid learning.

“That particular dashboard was not meant to automatically signal that schools be closed once it passed that threshold, although that certainly was the impression that was given,” he said. “So we’ll need to work through that.”

On Monday, Carney tweeted that state officials, guided by the Division of Public Health, were continuing to advise district and charter schools to follow the statewide criteria for reopening schools.

“Our statewide school reopening gating criteria indicates hybrid learning,” he said in another tweet. “We rely on our DPH experts to interpret the information behind the data to guide our recommendations.”

On Tuesday, the governor repeatedly asserted schools were “safe.”

“Schools are safe environments. Children are wearing masks and they’re social distancing,” he said. “We’re not seeing a lot of spread within schools themselves. Most of that spread is coming from the community and informal social gatherings.”

Carney also noted the infection rates in Kent County are the lowest in the state, and said not as many people are being tested as in other areas of Delaware. As with hospitals, one of the biggest factors for schools is staffing, he added.

“As people test positive, they’re obviously not able to be in the school setting, and that creates operational challenges,” Carney said.

The Delaware State Education Association issued a statement Tuesday calling for more transparency from Carney’s administration regarding COVID-19 data.

“We have been told that our schools are a safe place to be,” the statement read. “Stop telling us and start showing us by sharing all data and information regarding positive cases connected to schools, the results of contact tracing in terms of the number of identified close contacts required to quarantine and a clear indication of whether any transmission is occurring within our schools.”

Carney said officials are restrained by medical privacy laws in how much information they can disclose, particularly when there’s a small number of cases in one geographic area.

Meanwhile, the state teachers union praised officials in the Caesar Rodney, Capital and Milford school districts for returning to remote learning while they assess how and when schools can operate safely. It also urged administrators in other districts to seriously consider returning to remote learning.

“Given the continuing increase in new cases and percentage of tests that are positive, we are calling on all districts, at a minimum, to stop the expansion of in person learning until our data returns to more acceptable levels,” the union said.


Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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