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Manheim Township high school and middle school students disembark from their school buses on the first day of school on Tuesday, August 25, 2020.

Lancaster County has reached the “substantial” level of community transmission of COVID-19, according to an update to the state’s weekly early monitoring dashboard.

Now what?

The short answer: Not much.

Despite the spike in cases here, officials from several Lancaster County schools contacted Monday afternoon said no sudden changes in instructional models are planned.

Those school officials were from Donegal, Elizabethtown Area, Ephrata Area, Hempfield and Lampeter-Strasburg. Offcials from other districts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

School leaders had a phone call with the Pennsylvania Department of Education Monday to discuss next steps. During the call, state education officials said schools can wait to see if Lancaster County remains at the substantial level next week to decide whether they should shift to remote instruction.

Guidance released by the state Education Department in August recommended that “school entities should wait to see the results from the next 7-day reporting period before considering a change to their instructional models.”

Even then, the state wouldn’t require schools to shift instruction online, as it did in March.

“Ultimately, school leaders and school boards make decisions best suited for their communities at the local level,” state Education Department spokeswoman Kendall Alexander said in an email.

Currently, every school district in the couty is offering in-person instruction in some capacity, whether it’s part-time or full-time, or just a select grade range.

How it works

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has been monitoring community transmission by county since the last week of July. Every week, each of the state’s 67 counties is assigned a level of community transmission - either low, moderate or substantial.

Each level has its own recommended instructional models determined by the state Education Department. For the low level, the state recommends full, in-person instruction or a blended model with a mixture of in-person and online learning. At the moderate level, the state recommends blended or fully remote learning. Only remote learning is recommended in the substantial level.

To be in the substantial category, the county must have had 100 or more confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past week, or a percent positivity rate of 10% or higher.

Spike in Lancaster County

Last week, Lancaster County recorded 142 cases per 100,000 residents and a 6.5% positivity rate, meeting the threshold for substantial community transmission for the first time. The county has been in the moderate level since the last week of July, but it’s been creeping closer to the substantial level for the last several weeks.

On Monday, for example, Lancaster County recorded 90 new cases of COVID-19. The case count marked only the third time in 11 days that the county had fewer than 100 new cases. It hit the 100-case threshold for the first time on Oct. 10.

Hospitalizations are up, too. Lancaster General Hospital reported 47 COVID-19 patients, its highest number since May 29. WellSpan Ephrata reported 23 COVID-19 patients, the most since July 3.

With Monday’s new cases, the county has now recorded 10,951 COVID-19 cases since March.

More than 200 cases have been reported at Lancaster County public schools, and over a dozen schools have closed temporarily due to a surge in cases this fall.

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