Hamburg School District students returned from their Thanksgiving break virtually Dec. 1 in an attempt to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19, district officials have announced.

In a video posted to the district website Nov. 24, the superintendent, Dr. Richard Mextorf, said students will not return to in-person instruction until Dec. 14. 

Mextorf said there are several reasons for the move.

The first is that COVID-19 case data places the district in the state's substantial risk of community spread category.

That rating is part of an online tool developed by the state Department of Education to help school districts make decisions on whether students should be learning in person or virtually.

The risk of community spread refers to how likely it is that COVID-19 will pass from person to person in a community. For the substantial category, which is the worst of three categories, the state recommends all classes be held virtually.

Berks County has been in the substantial category for the past five weeks.

"That has my attention," Mextorf said of the current community spread risk.

Mextorf said also worries about what the holiday will bring.

He said many families will likely gather with relatives and travel for Thanksgiving — both things that state officials are asking Pennsylvanians not to do — and that could result in already high COVID-19 case numbers rising even higher.

"I'm concerned about what that means for the spread in our community," he said.

The idea behind temporarily moving to a virtual instruction model is to avoid having to take more drastic measures down the road, Mextorf said.

Acknowledging it's an inconvenience or even a hardship for some, he said his hope is that it helps stave off a potential outbreak that would close schools for even longer.

"We're playing the long game here," the administrator said. "I think it will set us up well."

The announcement about the temporary districtwide closure comes on the heels of two of the district's schools temporarily shutting down because of COVID-19 cases.

On Nov. 20 the district announced positive tests of a high school student and a Perry Elementary School staff member would close those schools for in-person learning Monday and Tuesday. Each had half-day, virtual classes instead.

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