In response to rising case numbers and requests from school leaders for additional support, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) will implement the following changes to the K-12 school COVID-19 case and close contact reporting process effective Friday, October 8, 2021.
We are making these changes to reduce the administrative reporting burden on school personnel, to allow DOH staff to respond more promptly to urgent school inquiries, and to get critical information about quarantining and isolation to students, school staff, and families as quickly as possible. Please be aware that DOH will continue to investigate individual COVID-19 cases and follow up with identified close contacts outside the school setting.
NOTE: Schools in an area with a County or Municipal Health Department (CMHD) should continue to follow their existing reporting processes.
As a reminder, school officials have the authority to restrict people who are at risk of spreading COVID-19 to others from entering a school. Schools do not need a quarantine order to take this action to protect the health and safety of students and staff.
School Case and Close Contact Aggregate Reporting
Since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, K-12 schools have been emailing case records and line lists of close contacts to DOH. Schools use that same email address to submit requests for technical assistance and public health consultation. However, having all this information sent to the same email is making it difficult for DOH to quickly respond to the urgent needs of schools.
Beginning October 8, 2021, K-12 schools will use this survey link to report only aggregate case and close contact numbers and will only report data once a week on Fridays. As of October 8, schools should no longer email individual case reports or close contact line lists to DOH. This survey is for official school use only and may be shared only with school staff that are responsible for reporting case and close contact information.
The first aggregate survey should be submitted by 5:00 PM on Friday, October 15, and should include new case and close contact information for October 8-15, 2021, only. The school then will continue to submit new case and close contact information by 5PM on Friday each week, until further notice. Case and close contact information received after a survey is submitted on Friday should be included in the following week’s survey. The reporting period for this survey is Friday to Friday. A school should complete the survey even for weeks when there are 0 cases and/or 0 close contacts to report. Cases and close contacts should only be counted and submitted once.
Schools reporting under this new process will be considered in compliance with the COVID-19 case reporting requirements in Title 28 Pa. Code Chapter 27 (relating to communicable and noncommunicable diseases).
This survey is for official school use only and may be shared only with school staff that are responsible for reporting case and close contact information.
Urgent Public Health Requests
K-12 schools should continue sending urgent technical assistance and public health consultation requests to DOH at RA-DHK12Epi@pa.gov. With the above reporting changes and additional agency resources, DOH is ready and committed to respond to these requests more quickly.
Official DOH Notification Letters
Throughout the pandemic, we have learned school administrators are best positioned to respond quickly to a positive case of COVID-19 and take swift action to ensure the health and safety of the individual, their close contacts, and the school community. While many schools have developed their own COVID-19 notifications and communications for their school communities, school leaders continue to request support and clarification of the notification process for cases and close contacts.
As a reminder, school officials have the authority to restrict people, who are at risk of spreading COVID-19 to others, from entering a school building. Schools do not need a quarantine order to take this action to protect the health and safety of students and staff.
Beginning October 8, 2021, all schools should use the official notification letters from DOH when communicating next steps to identified cases and close contacts in the K-12 school setting. The GUIDANCE FOR PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOLS -What To Do When There’s A Positive COVID Case has been updated to reflect the use of these letters. There are five separate letters that each have a distinct use:
- The School General Case Notification letter should be used to notify the entire school community that a case of COVID-19 was identified in the school setting.
- The School Isolation Notification letter should be used to communicate appropriate isolation guidance with parents/caregivers of a student who has been identified as a case.
- The School Close Contact Quarantine Notification letter should be used to communicate appropriate quarantine guidance with parents/caregivers of a student who has been identified as a close contact.
- The School Isolation Notification Staff letter should be used to communicate appropriate isolation guidance with teachers and staff who have been identified as a case.
- The School Close Contact Quarantine Notification Staff letter should be used to communicate appropriate quarantine guidance with teachers and staff who have been identified as a close contact.
The DOH Notification Letters and guidance for their use are attached to this email. The letter templates are available in editable PDF format. These letters are for official school use only and are being sent on behalf of DOH. As such, they may only be sent to and by school staff assigned to this responsibility and must be sent directly from the school to the identified individual (i.e., student, parent/guardian, staff member). Before sending, schools should make sure to fill out the appropriate letter template with all necessary information such as name, date, and school contact information. Schools should identify a primary staff member to be responsible for the distribution and management of these letters to cases, close contacts and the school community, as well as a secondary staff member to assist when the primary staff member is not available. The letters are for official school use only and may only be sent by school staff responsible for notifications.
The GUIDANCE FOR PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOLS - What To Do When There’s A Positive COVID Case has been updated to reflect the use of these letters.
Schools must ensure DOH receives copies of these letters when sending to cases, close contacts, or the school community. If sending via email, schools should blind carbon copy (bcc) the following email address: RA-DH-CovidLetter@pa.
Schools also are advised to review:
- Responding to COVID-19 Case(s) in Schools
- Responding to Positive Case Flowchart
- Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) Toolkit for Responding to COVID-19 Cases
Thank you for your continuing efforts to keep students, staff, and your communities safe during this challenging time.
Sherri L. Smith, Ed.D.
Acting Deputy Secretary
Department of Education; Office of Elementary and Secondary Education