Coronavirus case numbers continue to increase in the Saucon Valley School District and throughout Northampton County, where approximately 150 new cases are now being confirmed daily, according to the most up-to-date data available.
Since reporting three cases of COVID-19 at Saucon Valley Elementary School over the weekend to Pennsylvania Department of Health officials, district superintendent Dr. Craig Butler said he’s learned of another case that was confirmed at the school last week.
In an email to parents Tuesday, Butler said the fourth case at the elementary school involves someone who tested positive for the disease “prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Butler said the district determined that the individual had no close contact with other people, but added that the health department has been notified of the additional case.
The school was cleaned and disinfected over the holiday weekend, he added.
Despite the recent cases at Saucon Valley Elementary School and another case reported at the high school during the same time frame, Butler stressed that following a week of learning remotely “in-person instruction will resume for all students K-12 on Dec. 7.”
To date there have been 13 cases reported in Saucon Valley schools, with five of them reported over the past week.
Since the beginning of the school year, after district officials opted against considering a hybrid remote-and-in-person learning option, approximately 80 percent of Saucon Valley students have had in-person classes five days a week.
Before Thanksgiving, the district decided to keep all students out of class immediately following the holiday as a precaution against the spread of the disease; something a number of other local school districts also opted to do. Consequently, students in elementary, middle and high school at Saucon Valley are learning online through Friday.
Meanwhile, due to a new case surge that’s expected to be exacerbated by holiday gatherings, officials in some districts are expressing doubt about the feasibility of keeping all of their schools open for in-person learning during the pandemic’s second wave.
Bethlehem Area School District superintendent Joseph Roy warned parents in a video message Tuesday that by following new COVID-19 guidelines for schools issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health last week, his district may have to close individual schools abruptly if it is determined that the number of cases within a school over 14 days has surpassed the limit defined by the state.
“We’re closely watching the case count as we come now the days after Thanksgiving,” Roy said. “I am concerned about the volume of positives. I’m also concerned that in the past I was able to confidently say that no cases in school were connected to another. Now while I can’t say for sure a case led to another case, there have been several situations where two positive persons were in contact with each other in a school.”
“It’s close enough for me to be concerned about potential spread,” he added. “We’re going to double down on the masking and the social distancing.”
State officials have also demonstrated their concern for the spread of the coronavirus in Northampton County by opening a free, strategically-located testing site for anyone who wants to be tested, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19.
In a news release from state officials about the expansion of testing Tuesday, it was noted that Northampton County was selected to host a site because of “the recent rapid increase in COVID-19 cases” there that the health department data has confirmed.
“Every day COVID continues to spread in the commonwealth, every day our numbers continue to rise, and that puts our health care system and our health care workers at greater risk,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in the release. “To help stop the spread, we are announcing a new testing strategy in the commonwealth, one that will help improve access to testing for Pennsylvanians in every region of the state.”
The state’s so-called “strike force” drive-up testing facility in Northampton County is located outside at the William Penn Highway Park & Ride facility just off Rt. 33 in Bethlehem Township, where it is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday, Dec. 6.
Lehigh Valley Live reported that there were long lines of vehicles filled with people waiting to be tested on the facility’s first day open Wednesday, and that it closed early after its daily testing capacity was reached. Northampton County sheriff’s deputies were on hand to assist with the flow of traffic in and out of the site, the news site reported.
The news release from Wolf’s office said that up to 450 patients per day can be tested at each of the five strike-force locations set up around the state, where mid-nasal passage swab PCR tests are being performed by AMI Expeditionary Healthcare under a state contract.
There is no county residency requirement to be tested at the facilities.
Testing is on a first-come, first-served basis and is available without an appointment.
Patients must be three or older to be tested and are encouraged to bring a photo ID or insurance card with them. Registration is completed on-site, and the turnaround time
for testing results is from two to seven days.
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported another 8,291 new cases of COVID-19. That brought the total number of cases confirmed in the state so far to 375,431.
Nearly 200 new deaths from COVID-19 were also reported, which brought the state’s death toll from the pandemic to 10,757.
In Northampton County, there have been 9,111 cases to date and 337 deaths from COVID-19 according to the department of health’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Although most new cases are being confirmed in younger adults, deaths continue to be concentrated among segments of the population that are older and/or immune-compromised, according to health department officials.
State officials continue to stress the importance of wearing face masks, which Wednesday’s news release noted are “required in all businesses and whenever leaving home” and “critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19.”