GROVE CITY – The Mercer County area is considered “substantial" for community spread of COVID-19 cases, meaning confirmed reports of the virus are on the rise.

State officials announced the designation Monday. Grove City Area School District Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch warned that the entire school district might have to go to remote education. 

The high school went to remote learning earlier this month after several cases arose in the building. Hillview Elementary is going that route at least through Friday after an employee and two students tested positive for COVID-19.

Pennsylvania departments of Health and Education recommend that school buildings go to all-remote learning for three to five days if two or more people in the same educational building test positive, and for up to two weeks after two consecutive weeks in the substantial community spread designation.

“We’re working really hard for our kids and our community,” he said.

The region has entered the “substantial” category – the most serious of the three levels in the state’s Early Warning Monitoring System, which also has categories with with “low” and “moderate.”

There are more than 32 counties in Pennsylvania that are “substantial." The system examines several criteria, including week-to-week case increases and weekly number of cases per 100,000 residents, in determining each county's designation.

As of Nov. 6, Mercer County has 136 cases per 100,000 people, he said, adding that the designation is essentially a warning.

For school districts, that means that the Pennsylvania Department of Education maintains direct contact with superintendents.

Depending on how things progress, PDE could potentially recommend that districts in the “substantial” category go fully remote for all students.

Those districts need to show that they’re working hard on preventing further spread of the virus, Finch said.

That includes looking at whether certain cases are connected.

For example, the Department of Education said on Monday that 26 percent of the region’s cases can be connected to a known source, like a nursing home or prison.

Finch said the Department of Education is open to showing the district where improvements can be made, and he is confident Grove City can do better.

“If it’s not working, they can intervene more,” he said.

He doesn’t consider the conversation with the state education to be “threatening” but rather a collaborative effort with authorities holding the district accountable.

“What we’re doing together, it’s definitely gonna keep us strong,” he said.

And the communications are going beyond the district and state agencies.

Finch said he talks to county officials, regional superintendents, and school leaders from other states and countries.

“A lot of people are working together on it,” he said.

 

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