US Supreme Court Provides Split Decision Regarding Vaccine Mandates (January 19, 2021)

On Thursday, January 13, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court (Court) struck down one vaccine mandate and upheld another.  The former, which was blocked by a 6-3 vote, mandated that all employers with over 100 employees require vaccinations for all employees. The other, which was upheld by a 5-4 vote, mandated that healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding must be vaccinated. 

The Court found that the former mandate overstepped the authority granted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by Congress. The Court opined that, “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly…Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category.” 

On the other hand, the Court upheld the federal government’s right to impose a mandate, which was issued through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),  requiring healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs to be vaccinated.  Since HHS found that 35 percent of staff members at Medicare and Medicaid-funded health-care facilities were unvaccinated, and thus “pose a serious threat to the health and safety of patients…[and]…the secretary finds necessary in the interest of the health and safety of individuals who are furnished services…ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm.”

In essence, the federal government can’t impose a policy forcing employers to require their employees to be vaccinated; however, the Court’s decision does not make it illegal for employers to voluntarily institute a policy requiring their employees to be vaccinated. 

Philly Schools to Receive Updated COVID-19 Recommendations (January 19,2022)

As per the Philadelphia Health Department news release, throughout the pandemic, the Philadelphia Health Department has updated its guidance based on the latest science, the latest CDC recommendations, and what is actually happening in Philadelphia. There have been many questions about how to keep students and staff safe in schools, especially as more is  learned about COVID and the latest variant. Here is the latest update regarding recommendations for Philly schools only:

Masking

  • Students should continue to wear well fitted masks.
  • Cloth masks alone are no longer considered to be effective enough to protect against Omicron. A surgical mask or respirator, like a KN95 offers better protection than a cloth mask.
  • Double masking with a cloth mask over a surgical mask adds protection.
  • If feasible, surgical masks or respirators (KN95, KF94, or, for older children N95) could be made available to those who want to wear them in schools.
  • For those children or adults who have difficulty tolerating other masks, a cloth mask remains preferable to no mask. People should wear the most effective mask that they can keep in place over their nose and mouth consistently.

Isolation and Quarantine

  • Local education agencies that can implement all recommended layers of mitigation can switch to 5-day isolation/quarantine for students with strict masking for an additional 5 days, after consultation with and approval by PDPH.
  • These layers include: ventilation, contact tracing for high risk exposures, an area where students, teachers, and staff can eat while removing their mask from days 6-10 that is separated from others, screening testing, and strict masking.
  • Local education agencies that cannot implement the recommended layers noted above must maintain a 10-day isolation/quarantine period for students.
  • For teachers and other staff members, our new guidance allows for return after 5 days if rapid tests are negative on days 5 and 6 (they can return on day 6 after testing negative that morning).

Contact tracing

  • We recommend that contact tracing be reserved for higher risk exposures, meaning those that occur in unmasked settings such as lunch.

Screening Testing

  • Ten percent of a school’s unvaccinated population should be tested weekly to allow schools to be eligible to follow the 5-day quarantine/isolation guidance.

Pausing in-person learning

  • Given the current widespread community transmission currently occurring at this time, we will no longer use case numbers to determine when to pause in-person learning. Instead, schools will continue in-person learning unless staff absences due to COVID-19 isolation or quarantine require a temporary pause.

We know that this is one of the most stressful times of the pandemic, and we all want our children to be safe. We will continue to look for ways to beat back this pandemic, to keep our children safe, and to come through this together.

In addition to following this guidance, the best way to keep our children safe is by getting them, and ourselves vaccinated. Anyone who is eligible should be vaccinated and receive all recommended doses.

Click to see the full, detailed updated COVID guidance for schools.

Key Takeways from Updated CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools (January 18, 2022)

On January 13, 2022, the CDC released updated guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction continues to be a priority.
  • Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.
  • CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all* students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
  • New CDC guidance has reduced the recommended time for isolation and quarantine periods to five days. For details see CDC’s page on Quarantine and Isolation.
  • In addition to universal indoor masking, CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple prevention strategies, such as screening testing.
  • Screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection are also important layers of prevention to keep schools safe.
  • Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their healthcare provider for testing and care.
  • This guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies to protect students, teachers, staff, visitors, and other members of their households and support in-person learning.
  • Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies (e.g., physical distancing, screening testing).

Summary of Recent Changes Over the Past Two Weeks:

  • Added a footnote to clarify language in the screening testing table. (Jan. 13)
  • Clarified that to allow time for students to catch up with the latest recommendations and to minimize disruption to in-person learning, schools may consider forgoing quarantine for students ages 12-17 years who completed their primary vaccine series but have not yet received all eligible boosters. (Jan. 13)
  • Updated guidance to reflect new recommendations for isolation for people with COVID-19 and recommendations for people who have come into close contact with a person with COVID-19. (Jan. 6)

To visit the CDC site regarding these updates, click here.

White House to Increase COVID-19 Tests Available to Schools by 10 Million per Month (January 12, 2022)

On January 12, 2022, the White House announced new initiatives that will increase the number of COVID-19 tests available to schools by 10 million per month. These additional tests are aimed at helping schools safely remain open and implement screening testing and test to stay programs. The additional ten million tests per month will more than double the volume of testing that took place in schools across the nation in November 2021, which is the most recent data available. In sum, the White House is increasing COVID-19 testing for schools by:

Sending 5 Million No-Cost Point-of-Care Tests Per Month to Schools
The Administration will distribute 5 million free, rapid tests to schools each month to help K-12 schools stay open and to implement and sustain screening testing and test to stay programs in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This new allocation builds on the CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program, which distributed $10 billion in resources to states to support COVID-19 testing in schools. CDC will work with states who can submit requests to receive additional tests for high-need school districts that can put these tests immediately to use. After states submit initial requests, the first shipments will be delivered later this month.

Providing 5 Million Additional Lab-Based PCR Tests for Free to Schools Per Month
The Administration is making available lab capacity to support an additional 5 million PCR tests per month for schools to perform individual and pooled testing in classrooms nationwide. The additional testing will be delivered through the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Operation Expanded Testing (ET) program, funded by the American Rescue Plan to provide free PCR testing at schools nationwide. Three federally funded regional providers offer testing materials, supplies, and lab results and reporting at no direct cost to recipients through four regional hubs. Schools can immediately gain access to this free lab-based testing.

Deploying Federal Surge Testing Units to Support Free Testing Access for Students, School Staff, and Families at Community Testing Sites
HHS and FEMA are working with state, territorial, and tribal partners to address testing needs in communities and stand up federal testing sites. These surge testing sites are focused on ensuring hardest-hit and highest-risk communities have equitable access to free and convenient testing. Effective immediately, as the agencies review state, territorial, and tribal requests, they will consider how these sites can support the safe operations of K-12 schools. Opportunities to support K-12 schools may include locating federal testing units on or near school grounds; establishing specific operating hours for students, their families, and school staff; or dedicating a specific portion of daily testing to school communities. By incorporating school needs, state leaders can more effectively build school testing into their requests and planning while surge test sites continue to provide robust access to communities with greatest need.

Connecting Schools with COVID-19 Testing Providers to Set Up School Testing Programs using American Rescue Plan Funds
In addition to $10 billion for states to set up K-12 testing programs in the ELC program, the American Rescue Plan included $130 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund to safely reopen schools, which may be used to support school-based COVID-19 testing. To support schools that want to set up COVID-19 testing programs, the Department of Education and CDC will work with states and outside organizations to help schools make connections to testing providers that are available in their state. This includes connecting local school districts with the testing providers contracted by their states to set up COVID-19 testing in school using ELC funding. While programs vary by state, these arrangements allow schools to access testing resources quickly and coordinated with statewide activities, including accessing test supply and administration. Schools should contact their jurisdiction to join existing state efforts funded by ELC. CDC and ED will also engage school to help them learn how to set up testing programs and how they can use their American Rescue Plan funds to support them.

New Training, Resources, and Materials for Implementing Test to Stay in Schools
Last month, CDC released guidance on “test to stay,” an approach that allows students to remain safely in the classroom during their quarantine period as long as they wear masks and test at least two times in the seven days following an exposure. Test to stay programs are an effective approach for identifying and containing infection at school, and help enable schools to minimize and avoid interruptions to in-person instruction. Later this week, CDC will release additional materials for schools on how to implement test to stay programs, including a school checklist and frequently asked questions and answers. Additionally, ED and CDC will continue to provide additional opportunities for states and school districts to learn about test to stay and how to effectively implement test to stay approaches in school.

To read the official fact sheet, click here.

AFT Pennsylvania Chief Urges PDE To Re-implement COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts (January 10, 2022)

On behalf of 36,000 educators, paraprofessionals, and school staff across Pennsylvania, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Pennsylvania President Arthur G. Steinberg issued a statement on Friday, January 7, 2022 imploring the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to mandate enhanced COVID-19 mitigation or pause in-person learning until the current surge subsides.

According to Steinberg, “This week, the United States set a world record for number of COVID-19 infections recorded in a 24-hour period. Here in Pennsylvania, our number of daily cases has tripled in the past two weeks. School District across the Commonwealth face staff shortages due to outbreaks and the number of students testing positive is topping 40% in some places. Much more must be done to combat this surge that is decimating our capacity to teach.

“In-person instruction is by far the best way for students to learn and for educators to teach. In addition to the academic value of in-person learning, many students across Pennsylvania rely on free and reduced-cost lunches and breakfasts. Ideally, we would keep all schools open for in-person learning all the time. However, that has become untenable with a rising rate of infection of teachers and a shortage of qualified substitute teachers.

“Therefore, we are asking the Pennsylvania Department of Education to reinstate COVID mitigation layers in all school districts, rather than the current patchwork that exists. This includes negotiated vaccination mandates for educators and school staff, masking requirements with KN95 masks or greater, and asymptomatic and pool testing of students and staff regardless of vaccination status. If these layers of mitigation cannot be instituted in a timely manner, we believe there is no choice but to pause in-person learning for two school weeks.

“Educators and other school staff want to be in classrooms; that is where they do their best work and can tend to the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. But this virus, especially the current surge, has made it nearly impossible to deliver the services our educators are tasked with delivering.”

 “Teachers want to be in classrooms with their students. And students are falling behind without in-person learning. But to reopen schools with the virus continuing to rage in this manner is irresponsible and dangerous. I urge the Secretary of Health and Acting Secretary of Education to reconsider.”

To view the press release, click here.