'Tripledemic': Philadelphia schools review data to determine if masks will return after vacation

‘Tripledemic’: Philadelphia schools review data to determine if masks will return after vacation

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — The ongoing “tripledemic” of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza (flu), and coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in the United States and the Philadelphia area.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several areas of the country are “approaching seasonal peak levels” for RSV. Meanwhile, the CDC also notes that influenza activity is “high nationwide” with “at least 13 million illnesses” this season so far, and COVID cases spiked in December, bringing the total number of cases to more than 99 million as of last Friday.

The latest data from the CDC shows COVID hospitalizations increased last week in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

Last week, Pennsylvania averaged 177 COVID hospital admissions per day; 183 in New Jersey; and 15 in Delaware.

Action News spoke with Philadelphia School District Physician Kendra McDow on Monday about the ‘triple outbreak’ in the region, what the district is seeing in its schools, and how it plans to address potential outbreaks. .

McDow said with national trends showing an increase in RSV, influenza and COVID cases, she did not see high numbers of absentees in the district.

She said that a few months ago, when RSV was trending up in Philadelphia, there was an increase in absenteeism at the individual school level, but not across the entire district.

McDow said it now appears RSV levels are peaking nationally and in the city, amid flu and COVID cases.

As the “Triple Outbreak” weighs on the minds of parents, students, and staff, the Philadelphia School District’s “General COVID-19 Protocol for the 2022-2023 School Year” remains in place.

The policy, which called for masks in schools for the first 10 days of the school year in August and September, could lead to the return of masks after the holidays.

The policy states that masking may be required “on return from extended breaks and vacations when increased social gatherings may increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

“One of the features of the COVID policy, due to the increased risk of the spread of COVID in the school after returning from winter vacation, the seasonality that we’re starting to see around COVID, one of those measures is that we can consider requiring masking for a period of time after returning from extended breaks,” McDow said.

She said the district is still reviewing the data to make this decision. She noted that they have seen an increase in self-reported COVID-19 cases among students and staff, which follows national trends.

“We will ensure that we are proactive in protecting our students and staff,” McDow said. “The most important thing is to make sure that we reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools and that we are able to keep children in classrooms so they can receive this very important in-person learning.”

She said the district continues to keep its mitigation measures in place, including:

  • Masking for students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to school from day 6 to day 10 of illness
  • Students and staff who are exposed must also wear a mask
  • Encourage hand washing, covering your mouth and nose when coughing/sneezing
  • Hand sanitizer is provided in all buildings
  • If students and staff feel ill, it is recommended to stay home
  • All are encouraged to get their COVID and flu shots
  • Regarding COVID testing, in-school testing is available for students who have consent on file.

    Tests are also available at these schools Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

  • South Philadelphia High School 2101 S. Broad St.
  • Samuel Fels High School 5500 Langdon Street
  • Overbrook High School 5898 Lancaster Avenue
  • MLK High School 6100 Stenton Ave.
  • Thomas Edison High School 151 West Lucerne Street
  • Starting Monday, December 12, students, staff and their families can pick up free over-the-counter home testing kits at the locations above.

    “We are maintaining our testing measures, masking as needed, of course our cleaning and disinfection measures, and promoting vaccination,” McDow said. “Internally, we really strive to make sure parents are aware of resources so they can keep themselves and their families safe.”

    There will be a town hall meeting this week for parents and guardians surrounding these respiratory illnesses and school policies. Clinicians from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will be part of the meeting.


    ABC News contributed to this report

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