Bringing students back to school, albeit part time in school and the rest remotely, is the state's focus and a top priority as the new year moves forward.
“We really need to lean into this effort to get as many children in front of teachers and in classrooms on Jan. 11,” said Gov. John Carney during his weekly press conference Jan. 5.
Hybrid learning, a system in which children go to school a couple of days a week and attend classes online the rest of the time, was paused in December two weeks before Christmas break as the number of COVID-19 cases in Delaware escalated.
In a letter sent to educators Jan. 5, Carney, Secretary of Education Susan Bunting and Dr. Karyl Rattay, Division of Public Health director, recommended that Delaware schools return to hybrid learning Monday, Jan. 11.
“We have spent the past four weeks helping schools try to address the operational challenges they are experiencing. And we can all agree that students learn best when they're in school. For all of these reasons, we are recommending that districts and schools make every effort to return to hybrid learning on Jan. 11,” the letter stated.
Cape Henlopen School District has been holding hybrid classes throughout the year, even though other schools have gone to remote learning only. Cape continued with a hybrid format when classes resumed Jan. 4 following the holiday break.
Carney said his recommendation for schools to resume in hybrid fashion follows decisions by governors in neighboring states.
Also on Jan. 5, officials announced a change in data they use to recommend whether schools are open or closed. The state's data dashboard that had used three metrics – number of new cases, rate of cases, and number of hospitalizations – will no longer be color coded and used to recommend school operation, Rattay said.
Instead of a school-reopening dashboard, she said, there will be a weekly snapshot or summary of community spread of COVID-19 in Delaware.
“We no longer believe that the dashboard is an accurate reflection of the conditions in schools,” she said.
Studies throughout the country and information gathered in Delaware have shown that COVID-19 is primarily spread in uncontrolled activities outside schools, not in them, Rattay said. When COVID-19 cases rose in November and December among people affiliated with schools, she said, officials did not see numbers rise within the schools.
“That was quite eye-opening,” Rattay said. “We're just not really seeing spread in the school setting.”
Rolling out vaccinations over the holiday season was a tough time to get started, Rattay said, but now that the holidays are over, vaccinations should be back on track.
Vaccinating frontline workers and moving into the second phase of vaccinations, which includes educators, funeral directors and other workers, is a top priority, Carney said.
“We hope to get to that time as quickly as possible, vaccinating our educators because that's our second goal into the new year,” he said.
Rattay said about 5,000 doses will go into the arms of frontline workers this week through mass vaccinating efforts known as pods. These events are for workers who do not have access to vaccinations within their organizations.
In total, she said, hospitals and other healthcare facilities have about 15,000 doses for vaccinations.
Carney said vaccinating Delawareans is a top priority as the new year begins.
“The new year 2021 is going to be way better; it can't be any worse than 2020,” he said.