Staff shortages, COVID-19 increases push State College schools to remote classes

"Our team is predicting that our current situation will only become worse during the two weeks after the Thanksgiving break."

  • Anne Danahy/StateImpact Pennsylvania

(State College) — The State College Area School District is switching to entirely remote learning after Thanksgiving through Dec. 14, as it faces staff absences due to COVID-19 and the expectation of an increase in cases after Thanksgiving.

The school district made the announcement Thursday, saying it has reached a “tipping point.”

“For weeks, we have been struggling with staffing due to absences related to COVID-19 in addition to usual illnesses,” the message from Superintendent Bob O’Donnell reads.

“Compounding the problem, our team is predicting that our current situation will only become worse during the two weeks after the Thanksgiving break because of the recent surge of COVID-19 and expected holiday gatherings,” the message says.

The announcement says the district plans to return to its hybrid in-person learning Dec. 14.

As of Thursday, the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard lists 13 positive cases among regularly-scheduled employees and 22 among in-person students.

As of Monday’s school board meeting, 34 district employees were in quarantine or isolation for either testing positive for the coronavirus or being in close contact with someone who was positive.

Centre County has 5,411 known COVID-19 cases, according to Thursday’s report from the state Department of Health. While the rise in cases in Centre County and the State College area has been slowing down, hospitalizations have been climbing.

On Thursday, Mount Nittany Medical Center was caring for a record number of inpatients with COVID-19: 26. They range in age from 31 to 94 years old.

A pedestrian walks past posters showing a health care worker wearing a mask in Los Angeles as California became the second state to surpass 1 million coronavirus infections last week.

Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images

A pedestrian walks past posters showing a health care worker wearing a mask in Los Angeles as California became the second state to surpass 1 million coronavirus infections last week.

Countywide, 27 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s up from 11 patients hospitalized a month ago.

While Mount Nittany Health is the only hospital in Centre County, there is at least one rehab hospital in the county as well, according to the state Department of Health. The department did not respond to requests for information on which rehab hospital has COVID-19 patients.

The decision by the State College Area School District comes as Pennsylvania sees record numbers of cases almost every day. On Thursday, cases statewide climbed by 7,126, reaching 288,978. The previous largest one-day increase was Wednesday with 6,339 cases. That number has more than doubled in the last two weeks.

The Penns Valley Area School District announced it is switching to entirely remote learning, starting Monday until Dec. 1.

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