On behalf of our colleagues, we want to acknowledge the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia and reassure you that we are watching the situation closely. This update is to keep you informed regarding the latest statistics, policy recommendations, and our internal considerations for Friends Select School.

We continue to monitor our surrounding community's COVID-19 trends using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Two of the many core indicators of community burden that you may be hearing about are the number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and the percentage of test positivity rate. There are also other factors to take into consideration when determining the status of our learning mode as a school.

While the daily case numbers are rising and the incidence per 100,000 has increased, the infection test positivity rate has remained relatively low (<5%). Overall, factoring these metrics the DOH considers Philadelphia area schools at a moderate level of community transmission risk. Experts are advising that the infection test positivity rate regarding COVID-19 indicates the overall transmission rate of an area. We are tracking this closely at the state and city levels, as well as our specific Friends Select population. The level within our school is based specifically on faculty, staff, and student zip codes. The latest 7-day average positivity rate in the state is 3.9%, in the city of Philadelphia is 3.9%, and in the zip codes where our community members live is 2.28%. We have not had any positive cases at school, but we are prepared to take recommended actions in the event that we do.

Though the incidence rates have increased, overall Philadelphia is still considered stable, meaning COVID-19 related illnesses are not stressing our healthcare system or affecting the workforce. Many of these new cases are attributed to local university outbreaks. Philadelphia is also doing a better job at testing more of the population. With the test positivity rate remaining low as the incidence rate increases, it shows many more test results are negative than positive, indicating a lower transmission rate. Essentially, we are doing better at identifying and testing the minor symptoms (more new cases) and a COVID-19 positive person is not infecting as many others. Put simply, we are identifying cases and stopping the spread earlier in the process.

For greater context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Indicators for Dynamic School Decision-Making" provides an overview of the many factors and conditions to consider within a school and not just a single metric number. Our internal procedures and implementation of strong mitigation strategies, along with the core and secondary indicators, determine that Friends Select is at low to moderate risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in our school. While our local health departments in the Philadelphia region are seeing students and teachers become infected each week, they've reported that those cases have been principally community-acquired, suggesting that risk for exposure to COVID-19 is higher when school employees and students are out of school and not benefiting from the safety protocols of the school day. This reinforces our need and request for all of our extended Friends Select community members to uphold the behaviors expected in school, while off campus.

Additionally, here are some thoughts from Dr. David Rubin and his team at CHOP PolicyLab, from their recent article, "The Northeast Resurgence Has Begun, but Safe School Reopenings Still Possible"

It's reassuring that, barring quickly accelerating disease or tremendously high disease burden in a community, thus far we are seeing very little evidence of in-school transmission between students or from students to staff. Additionally, there is no convincing evidence that modest rises in community disease activity confer additional risk to in-person learning or drive outbreaks that originate in schools. To continue monitoring this, we need to rely on our health departments more than ever. In southeast Pennsylvania, for example, the local health departments are doing meticulous contact tracing and actively searching for evidence of in-school transmission. That they have not found such evidence is comforting and can provide a compass by which cautious school reopenings should proceed. 

Until we see evidence from our health departments that in-school transmission is developing, we would suggest there is a strong case to be made for school districts that have not yet opened for in-class instruction to begin reopening for students in elementary school and those with special education needs. Despite the increased transmission risk associated with older children, the considerations for reopening middle and high schools include some advantages for those districts already undertaking reopening plans. Specifically, because of the maturity of their students, these schools may be better able to ensure distancing and masking protocols are maintained in the classroom-lowering transmission risk from what these youth could experience in the community. In fact, for children of all ages, we are seeing that the most substantive risks are in family and community environments. As districts reopen, it will be important for schools to create a sense of shared understanding and commitment to infection control in home and community settings among all members of the school community.

We are planning to update our school reopening guidance in the next week, to move away from the absolutism of case incidence thresholds toward a stronger reliance on the effectiveness of contact tracing in schools and the availability of rapid testing. We believe future decisions to revert to distance learning or halt school reopenings can now be more directly informed by whether uncontrolled community transmission is occurring (as evidenced by quickly rising positivity rates) or if community outbreaks are found to originate from schools.

We feel confident that the protocols we are recommending can create a safe school environment for most. That said, we--and certainly public health professionals throughout the country--are carefully reviewing data each week and will continue to calibrate guidance based on our collective interpretation. Our modeling data suggests there are challenging weeks coming; we cannot promise the right answers, but we will be honest in our dialogue and open to adjusting our guidance in this dynamic period of the pandemic. 

Friends Select's administration will continue to follow recommendations from health experts, particularly at the local level, including CHOP PolicyLab, the DOH, Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, as well as experts within our parent body. More information about our school's health and safety protocols is available on our website. We will provide additional updates as this situation evolves, and our community will be notified when there is a case within our school.

Let's continue to uphold our Community Stewardship Statement and support one another for the good of our entire community.


Kelly Papianou
School Nurse 

Michael Gary
Head of School