As Covid-19 Cases Soar in Pennsylvania – A TESD Elementary School Teacher Provides Personal Observations

With the 2020 election last week and then the wait for the results, I purposefully delayed this post.

The news on Covid-19 cases is not good — the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported a one-day record of 4,035 new positive coronavirus cases on Saturday. That number more than doubled the springtime high. Since Covid began, at least 9,015 people in Pennsylvania have died from the coronavirus with new deaths reported daily. Cases are continuing to rise across Pennsylvania, with concern that the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better as we enter the colder months.

There is some encouraging news out this morning from Pfizer indicating their vaccine against Covid-19 is strongly effective and exceeding expectations – the early trial results showing an effective rate of 90 percent in preventing infection! Such good news!!

Not to take anything away from the encouraging Covid-19 vaccine news from Pfizer, but … until the vaccine is readily available, the pandemic continues and coronavirus cases surge.  In fact, multiple school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania have closed schools as more students and staff became infected.

In our District, a staggered reopening began on October 12 with a hybrid in-person option as well as continued virtual learning.

The table below is the latest weekly snapshot of Covid-19 cases in the T/E School District. Each week the District updates the information. The chart indicates that for the week ending November 6, the District reported 2 new cases at Conestoga High School, 1 new case at T/E Middle School, 1 new case at Valley Forge Middle School and 1 new case at New Eagle Elementary School.  No new Covid-19 cases reported from the District staff for the week.

At the end of each week, the District updates its dashboard for new Covid-19 cases (students and staff). To review the results, click here.

A few days before last week’s election, I received an anonymous email in regards to the Covid-19 health crisis from a member of the T/E staff, which was both unsettling and concerning.  Before posting the remarks, I asked the writer to call me to verify. We had a lengthy conversation and the teacher from one of our elementary schools wants her observations to be made public.

Not wishing to add to the heightened anxiety surrounding the presidential election, I purposely held off posting the teacher’s remarks (below) until now. The elementary school teacher was careful to point out to me, that the comments are representative of her school only – and further, she has no information about the District’s handling of the pandemic at the other elementary schools, the middle schools or the high school.

Hi Pattye!

I work at a school in the district, and I’ve been holding off reaching out to you, but I can’t anymore. I’m scared for my health. I’m scared for our students. I’m scared for my family after being exposed all day at work.

In my school, I have frequently seen teachers walk around with just a face shield and no mask — this is approved by the district, but the shields are open on the sides and top and can easily allow transmission to happen.

I’ve heard teachers say covid isn’t real and keep their masks off even when other staff or students are present — this is not allowed and administration is aware — yet nothing changes.

I’ve seen support staff huddled up together talking with their masks off.  I have seen staff not following social distancing guidelines.

Wednesdays are supposed to be a day for deep cleaning to take place, yet the room for 4/5 days a week students from all different grades and classes is not being cleaned. The staff is wiping down desks themselves because no one comes in to clean them. The only things that I have seen being cleaned are doorknobs and light switches — which while appreciated, don’t account for the numerous other areas students touch daily.

I’ve seen specials teachers handing out shared materials. I have seen students not following social distancing guidelines with teachers nearby — but the teachers don’t correct them.

It’s overwhelming. There are students coughing and sneezing, but if they don’t have a fever they aren’t sent home.

There are staff that have symptoms that are told to stay home (yet no cases are being reported on the dashboard run by Chris Groppe).  We have had numerous cases where support staff has been out with symptoms or due to exposure, yet the students they work with are still allowed to come to school.

We had a situation where a staff member was exposed and had to be tested, yet none of the staff who were exposed to that person were ever notified. I feel like we are being misled by administration.

Everyone says we’re safe — but we have several students out this week (some who have parents who communicated the student’s symptoms) yet there’s no word on whether the students will be required to be tested before they return to school.

I honestly feel like TESD has no desire to notify people who are exposed unless there is a positive test — and at that point, it may be too late. I really feel like the community and parents need to be aware of what is going on here.

I am beyond shocked that the schools have been able to remain open as long as they have, but I honestly believe it’s because the district isn’t being honest about possible cases/exposure.

Signed,

Let Down in T/E School District

Based on my discussion with the District teacher, it appears that the policy/protocol around the students who exhibit symptoms of Covid – such as cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, etc. and when they can return to school, are vague and need to improve. The teacher is concerned that the administration is not providing accurate information on other staff and on covid testing results. It’s worth repeating, these observations are from a District teacher in one elementary school and may not be representative of all the schools.

I asked the teacher how staff reporting of Covid policy breaches was handled – I learned that the staff is free to report any breaches to the school principal. However, the teacher said that she (and others) were uncomfortable with the reporting policy, preferring anonymity. I wonder if there be a way for staff to report anonymously – maybe utilizing a locked comment box?

Without question, the ongoing health crisis is difficult for all — the parents, students, teachers and administration. Families are challenged as they make educational choices for their children during the pandemic. And with Covid-19 cases on the rise, those decisions are all the more important.

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  1. While cleaning and sharing protocols not being followed need to be, the bulk of this teacher’s post is not realistic. By his/her criteria, every cough or fever would trigger multiple ripples of notification. It’s neither appropriate nor feasible.

    The teacher’s comment doesn’t work: “We had a situation where a staff member was exposed and had to be tested, yet none of the staff who were exposed to that person were ever notified. I feel like we are being misled by administration.”

    So if a teacher was exposed you want everyone they interacted with notified? And if 20 kids are home because they were exposed to someone who tested positive, you want all the exposed kids’ teachers and classmates home even if those 20 have no symptoms or catch it? That’s not contact tracing. That’s second degree tracing done nowhere because everyone would be in a state of perpetual quarantine. You’d never be open which seems to be what this teacher is not so subtly advocating which would be fine if they were transparent about it or were citing the rising cases in the county instead of implying malfeasance.

    Feeling misled? Say what you were promised on tracing before claiming that.

    I am sometimes critical of the district but they have shown tremendous transparency in reporting and are following their notification protocols. The teacher’s comments read like fearmongering.

    If the teacher is so clearly not comfortable with these protocols and procedures s/he should request a leave of absence as many in other industries do when in this situation.

    1. I think it is important to remember not everyone can afford a leave of absence. Also, I feel like if I had coworkers I was in close contact with I’d expect to be told if they have to get covid tested or not. Not in an official you should quarantine way, but maybe a heads up so we can be mindful of where we go until the results are in?

    2. I do think it’s important for coworkers and parents to know if someone that they come in contact with is out for a Covid test. The decent thing to do is to let others know just as a “a heads up”. It might make you watch for symptoms a little more closely or think twice about going somewhere around other people until the said person’s test results are definitive(think if you weren’t told that a coworker that you work with everyday was out for a Covid test and you unknowingly go visit your elderly parents that weekend, come in to work on Monday and then find out that said person had a positive test) if you known the facts, you might have made a difference t choice. This is the only way we are going to get ahead of this virus. We need to make smart, informed choices that will be inconvenient at times. You suggest that the person can just request a leave of absence if worried for their safety. As a former TE employee, I can almost 100% guarantee that employees will not request a leave of absence. They would be afraid to be put on “that list” which forever puts a black mark on your record (no matter what the administration says) They are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

      1. The whole process has been stressful, to say the least, on educators who are highly concerned about getting sick.

        How can you be the best for your students when you’re worried about dying? Nobody’s coming to save them. They’re really on their own.”

        It sounds like the district hasn’t listened to teachers’ concerns and I’d like to know what the Union says. Do they have any job action they can take?

        Cases are surging in PA and in every state and we’re in for a very dark winter.

        Will students return home for virtual instruction if a surge in cases occurs? What information is the District revealing to the public? Are cases and exposures being under reported?

    3. The District has been using extra Registered Nurses in every school to follow specific guidelines that were received from the Chesrer County Health Department. There are specific list of symptoms that are reviewed per the parent questionairre on the District website under power school.
      Each day employees and parents fill out the Covid 19 questionairre.
      If the questions are not done, an RN meets with student as they exit the bus or car. The RN calls parents.
      In addition, PPEs including masks, eye coverings and gloves are used.
      Every child is screened if the parent does not complete on line.
      Every child sent to the nursing office is screened carefully.
      Social distance and handwashing are monitored upon entrance to a school, in classrooms and outside the school yard.
      I am the Registered Nurse in your schools.
      I take your health and the collective community very seriously.
      Finally, the District must report and trace any positive cases along with Chester County and PA.
      Help us help you in anyway we can.
      Extra nurses are on duty in our schools.

  2. It would be nice to see the “final” policies that the District has adopted so (a) all parties can see what they should be doing and (b) knowing what is expected they will know were they are failing. Also, the policy should address accountability and enforcement of these District policies for the benefit of all students, teachers and staff. Without enforcement you will have many lapses which in this case will lead to even more cases. Policy discipline is essential in protecting all attending school and is essential in mitigating the effect of the virus in our community. Stay safe everyone.

    1. Ask the Nurses for the CCHD policy they are following.
      All kids and staff are screened.
      All parents get daily questions.
      There are recommendations to keep kids home with any Covid symptoms and call your doctor and get tested if needed.
      There are additional nurses covering buildings.
      Each nurse follows Policy provided by the County Health Department.
      Nurses report per County guidelines.
      A nurse is obligated per State law per their proffessional license to follow CCHD protocol for assessment and tracing.

      1. Liz do you work in the district? I’m genuinely curious because the school my friend works at does not have a second nurse. It would be great if all of the schools did!

  3. I understand that this teacher’s comment may not be indicative of experiences in the other schools. But as the parent of two children, ages 7 and 9, I believe that I made the right choice to continue to keep them home and do virtual learning. To continue with the virtual option is not an easy choice for many parents.

    I do wonder where the TE teachers union stands on some of the teacher’s points. Patty, did you and the teacher discuss the union?

    1. In response to your question, my discussion with the teacher was focused on her experience and observations in the school where she works. I did not ask anything about the teachers union.

  4. This is not the forum for a one off conversation with a teacher. The School district is obligated by the CDC to report all cases.
    How about in the midst of a pandemic, we keep calm cool level heads and let TESD report as required instead of poking holes in everything?

    1. This is the perfect forum for an anonymous letter from a teacher, afraid to share this information with their building Principal.

      Why is the teacher afraid to share this with their building Principal? That’s the real issue.

  5. I am a teacher too I find this anonymous letter cowardly…if the teacher has this many concerns he/she should tell their building principal

    1. Mary I did think the suggestion in the post about an anonymous way to report was a good idea! Some people may be uncomfortable coming forward for fear of retaliation. If there was a way to report concerns to the principal or a higher maybe teachers would be more comfortable sharing concerns?

      1. She should reach out to the building principal or the custodial staff ! Not get on the internet. The cleaning should get done at night .

    2. Mary, I can tell by your answer that you must not teach in TE. Feel blessed that you work for a school where you can go and speak freely with your principal without any repercussions. Unfortunately, that is just not in the TE administration culture. iIt’s not a new problem. It’s been happening for decades.

  6. There is no better approach than full transparency. For the staff, the students, siblings, and parents. Not telling about those testing positive for Covid 19 is simply lazy and potentially worried about image and finances. Well suck is up.

  7. Just be honest. District, if there are protocols, follow them, or don’t have them and say you’re following them. If there is information, share it with teachers and parents. We don’t have time for obfuscation and
    half truths. Armed with information, parents and teachers can make the best decisions for their kids and families. And anonymity comes from a fear of reprisal. The concept of reprisal came up here and has come up on many other posts on this blog. Fear of reprisal speaks to a dysfunctional culture and weak leadership from our superintendent and the board who employs him. Just be honest.

    1. Be Honest,
      I agree 100% it would be better to not have any protocols at all than have a list that’s not being followed, giving people a false sense of security. The district should put out all the information available (good and/or bad) and let people make informed, educated choices for their own families.

  8. COVID-19 by the Numbers: Mortality Rates in U.S. Decrease, Despite Uptick in Cases

    It is appreciated that the TE teacher is concerned for the safety for her/himself and the students. However, Since the TE teacher mentioned the concern of death, relating to the Covid-19, the following article puts facts into perspective. As you will see, Covid mortality rates have been decreasing. Why? Earlier diagnosing and better treatment protocols. In other words, if you are diagnosed with Covid, you are more likely to survive. This is good news! Unfortunately, some have used this pandemic to scare citizens. Let’s face it, we all are weary of this pandemic, but don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

    Published: Oct 27, 2020 By Gail Dutton

    Coronavirus_Compressed

    The number of excess deaths in the United States is trending downward despite autumn upticks in COVID-19 incidents.

    For the first time since the COVID-19 epidemic began in the U.S., deaths have dropped below usual levels from prior years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The most recent data (from the week ending October 10) showed excess deaths only 0 and 2.9 percent higher than historic data. These figures are based on death certificates and analyzed by the National Center for Health Statistics within the CDC.

    This is part of a recent downward trend in excess deaths. It suggests that, as scientists learn more about this disease, they are better equipped to intervene earlier and more effectively than when the pandemic began. Concomitantly, they are learning which repurposed therapies can mitigate the worst symptoms caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and when they are best administered. Some new therapies also are in clinical trials. Consequently, COVID-19, while quite serious, is losing some of its sting.

    1. Emotional Rescue,
      Look at current data,

      +134,383 New Cases per day
      CASES IN LAST 7 DAYS PER 100K
      36.6
      TOTAL DEATHS
      239,590
      +1,859 New Deaths per day
      CDC | Updated: Nov 11 2020 12:17PM

      Coronavirus cases are surging, everywhere. There’s going to be 2,000 daily deaths very soon. This is a disaster and it’s going to get much worse.

      Catastrophic:
      1859 deaths in a single day
      134,000+ new cases per day.

      However:
      1 in 4 corona cases died in March
      That dropped in June
      Dropped more in August.
      More than half of patients are under 50 now, and care is different.

      Evolving care has decreased deaths from corona but the virus hasn’t changed, and it is surging. We are in for a very dark winter.

    2. THANK YOU, THANK YOU EMOTIONAL RESCUE! A voice of reason.

      Yes, sadly it is a deadly disease for some, very very few in the big picture. Most, the large majority, will recover quickly and without lingering effects as my 62 year old neighbor and 56 year old neighbor have. As with most things in the news you see the worst of the worst. The good news and progress being made is buried. When I was tested for Covid myself in August (didn’t have it) my doctor told me that even then, the end of the summer, the cases they were seeing were more mild and not lasting as long.

      My mom is recovering from being in the hospital a couple of weeks back, in ICU for over a week, with pneumonia, good old fashioned pneumonia. NO COVID. Pneumonia kills 1.5 million Americans a year and I think it is the #6 cause of death in the country? It affects all age groups, not the just the 65 and over crowd, and is especially deadly to children.

      My youngest has asthma, and more importantly, an autoimmune condition that causes swelling of her airways. She was hospitalized with pneumonia as a baby and we almost lost her. We have always been terrified of her getting the flu/pneumonia again, even more then COVID. They never closed the grade school for flu running around when she was there and she was at a huge risk. We just practiced good hygiene, got our flu shots and kept an eye on her. She’s now in college and manages her condition herself with the blessing of her doctors at CHOP who said they were ok with her going to school out of state this year even with the COVID pandemic as she is still in a lower risk bracket, “the benefits out weigh the risk”.

      I can understand closing schools and going virtual for a couple of weeks here or there to curb the spread in a targeted manner (i.e. by counties and school districts) but not a state or country wide mandate. Go at it with a scalpel not a manchette. It’s a slippery slope with the teacher unions too…..give them an inch…

      Wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t stand on top of each when out in public, get the vaccine when it becomes available but go on with your lives.

      1. Tina,

        Pneumonia does not kill 1,500,000 million Americans a year.

        1,000,000 to 1,500,000 people seek care in an emergency facility each year in the US for pneumonia.

        50,000 Americans die from pneumonia per year.

        Pneumonia is not comparable to Covid 19.

        We’re going to lose 60,000 people to Covid 19 in the next couple of months! It’s 5x’s more contagious than the flu. We’re just now learning about the long term effects of Covid 19 in many people.

        Please get your facts straight.

        1. Everyone’s….

          Ouch…I stand corrected, you don’t have to be so irate about it. I apologize that I misstated the amount, I never said it was more contagious. Indisputable fact is children are more likely to die from Flu & pneumonia then COVID. Excuse me for being sensitive as almost losing my child and then my mom.

          Everyone knows that COVID is more contagious but I stand by the rest of my statement that schools should not be closed as a knee jerk response, especially at the elementary level. Read the CHOP article in its entirety. The data says most transmissions are traced to out of school exposure, less transmissions tied to in school. I’m glad many SDs outside of Philly, like Haverford, are not shutting down so quickly and are studying the matter.

          I have a daughter that lives in Boston. They just started up with the curfews again….that makes a lot of sense…smash more people into less space for more limited time each day…that’s going to help stop the spread. Make the kids from multi-generational households like in NYC, Philly & Boston spend more time at home with older, at risk family members. At least at school these kids would be away for some of the day, getting fed, fresh air and an education. Don’t fool yourself that they are sitting under lock down either. I know a teacher in one of these areas….her students have to go sit outside Starbucks for internet to do their work, probably more susceptible to COVID there then in a classroom she said. But then again we don’t have these problems large scale on the main line.

          Wash you hands, wear a mask, don’t stand on top of each when outside your home, protect the elderly and those at higher risk. Personal responsibility.

    3. Emotional Rescue paints a rosy picture and what he says is true:

      “This is part of a recent downward trend in excess deaths. It suggests that, as scientists learn more about this disease, they are better equipped to intervene earlier and more effectively than when the pandemic began”

      However, this good news only holds if there are sufficient resources available for quality care – meaning nurses, doctors and airborne isolation hospital beds. Chester county has 86 isolation beds in total. On Nov 3rd there were 47 available. One week later on Nov 10th (the latest data) 30 are available. They are going fast as infections ramp up. Will one be available when you are in need.

      1. Keith,

        Of the 86 isolation beds in Chester County, 47 were available last week and 30 this week. Who is occupying the balance of those beds over the past 2 weeks? Are they all COVID? If not how many are COVID? Number or percentage. Thank you.

          1. The local health system encompassing 4 hospitals, had 60 Covid patients last week. They had over 100 yesterday, and anticipate 400 by January, if not sooner. It’s concerning to say the least.

      2. Your statement “this good news only holds up if there are sufficient resources available for quality care”— I don’t understand why you excluded, Evidenced Based Medicine—Therapeutics. Since March, healthcare professionals have been able to reduce Covid deaths due to protocols which include effective therapeutics— If you became symptomatic, tested, positive, your physician prescribed effective therapeutics —you may not need to go to the hospital.

        In my opinion, your example is misleading. It implies 1-that patients will only be able to go to a Chester County hospital. 2-Chester County Hospitals would not ramp up for the disease in the winter. I reference how the National Guard were deployed to help different states including building make shift hospitals, (that were never used) earlier in the year.

        As Tina said, we need to be vigilant-wear mask, wash hands etc. But we also need to be resilient. From some postings, it’s disappointing to hear the anxiety, the politics, the fear—what happened to the American can do spirit -Jonas Salk eliminated polio, Wright brothers learned how to fly, our relatives & neighbors won WWII….

        1. Emotional Rescue,

          This doesn’t really work if 50% of us are being responsible and the other 50% are going about their lives as though we’re not in the midst of a pandemic. And that’s what’s happening. It would be great if everyone were responsible, wash hands, wear masks etc. but it doesn’t happen.

          Delaware County hospitals are at capacity.

        2. First, please reference the picture to see that hospitalizations in PA are increasing exponentially and will soon surpass the number from the first wave in May – regardless of how much therapeutics have improved. Emotional Rescue said, “I reference how the National Guard were deployed to help different states including building make shift hospitals, (that were never used) earlier in the year.” While the physical hospital space may be available I hope the National Guard can also manufacture nurses and doctors. Please look at the current situation in Wisconsin, Utah, and the Dakotas. When you get to the hospital who’s going to take care of you?

          Wisconsin. “We are getting to the point where hospitals are strained and are likely to run out of staff before they run out of physical space,” said UW Health’s Dr. Ryan Westergaard.

          Utah: Bell said that hospitals across the state have started converting acute care floors into ICU floors and workers are being repurposed as ICU nurses.

          N Dakota: The situation is so dire that North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum announced this week that health care workers who are positive for COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms can keep working in COVID-19 units.

          From some postings, it’s disappointing to hear the shortsightedness, complacency, and denial. I’d rather see anxiety and fear. At least that way there might be action.

          1. You do realize, fear/ anxiety can lead to more alcohol consumption, opioid addiction and suicides….all have risen during the pandemic. Enough with the fear mongering, PS-The Abington school teacher is still alive.

            1. Objective information about a threat’s severity and people’s vulnerability to it are crucial for risk evaluation and decision-making.
              No one is fear mongering here. The facts are the facts.

        3. You miss an important fact about Covid 19: deaths follow infection numbers. It will take several weeks but the current upsurge in number of infections across our region and the country will cause an increase in deaths. This is a known outcome of infectious disease as applied to Covid 19. Further, with the coming congregation of families, some will be large because people simply can’t help themselves and think somehow they are “special” so their family members will be pass over as if some miracle, will find themselves sorrowful at a later date. This is not a time to be selfish, or to be ignorant. Be smart, act smart, not just for yourselves but also for your family, friends, neighbors. It’s the one way we can take individual responsibilities in helping manage the crisis nationally, at personal and local levels.

  9. Correction:

    We’re going to lose 60,000 Americans to Covid 19 in the next month- not the next couple of months. In the next couple of months, we’re on track to lose 120,000 Americans to Covid 19.

  10. It’s hard to overstate how much the U.S. coronavirus outbreak has deteriorated this past week, with each day ushering in new, disturbing records.
    On Thursday, there were more than 150,000 new infections. It was only last week that the U.S. reached a record of more than 100,000 infections in a single day for the first time ever.
    “This is the worst the pandemic has been,” says Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer in the Divisions of Infectious Diseases and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Michigan.
    Daily cases have gone up more than 70% nationwide, since the beginning of November. Another way to put it: one in every 378 people in the U.S. tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week.
    “You have the entire country seeing surges and you’re seeing it in rural areas and in urban areas. It’s a reflection of the fact that COVID is so widespread.”
    While the week brought some promising news about a potential vaccine, there are dark months ahead of the country, as people spend more time indoors and travel for the holidays.
    “This is a really dangerous time,” says Malani, who is also a fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It’s not too late. We can still turn things around, but it’s going to require a big effort.”

    1. I honestly can’t believe TESD isn’t shutting down with how high Chester Counties numbers are. Their metric recommended virtual if cases are higher than 80/100K 2 weeks in a row. Just last week CCHD has now extended that metric to 3 weeks. Our numbers nearly doubled, from 85/100k last week to 141/100k this week. Our school leaders need to make a decision to shut down the schools. If numbers are rising that quickly it’s only a matter of time before we see that spread in our schools!

  11. To provide hope, not fear….This is a excerpt from an article back in APRIL of this year about 50 yr old Abington School teacher who came down with Covid-19 and survived!

    ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — In Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, more than 1,400 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and 43 have died, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

    Hundreds more have recovered from the contagious disease, including an Abington Senior High School teacher who was critically ill.

    Boland, who said as she was watching the news and talks about the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine unfold.

    She decided to take it.

    “Within a day, 12 to 24 hours, whether it was that drug or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll never know, but I did turn around. My breathing became less labored, they didn’t have to put me on the ventilator. I narrowly escaped death.”

    I do not like to post antidotal stories regarding a serious disease; however, when emotionally charged repeat posts do not provide additional information, factual stories are needed. We all know the CASES are rising. In addition, a work colleague’s 78 yr old overweight mom survived Covid—Her physician prescribed plasma treatment and oxygen. She recovered. These factual stories are intended to provide hope and reinforce the fact, mortality rates have decreased as CASES have increased. These are anxious times and seeing one’s healthcare professional for anxiety meds may also help.

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