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The chart shows a troubling trend for Chester County, while Delaware County is keeping its coronavirus positivity numbers in check.

EAST MARLBOROUGH—A leading expert on infectious disease told Unionville-Chadds Ford School directors Monday night that if the current coronavirus positivity trend continues in Chester County, it will be some time before students return to the classroom.

Dr. Salwa E. Sulieman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist affiliated with several hospitals in the region, said modeling studies show a marked increase in cases over the next four weeks in Chester County.

"If cases continue to increase or stay at this high rate in Chester County over the next two weeks, virtual instruction will need to stay," she said. "We want to get our kids back to school safely, but the numbers unfortunately are discouraging. I hope we have better news in the coming weeks."

During the week of Aug. 14, the coronavirus positivity rate in Chester County was just 2.5 percent, but has spiked to 6.5 percent the week of Sept. 4. It's a stark contrast to nearby Delaware County, where the rate was 4.3 percent the week of Aug. 14, and 4.4 percent the week of Sept. 4.

Sulieman told school directors that the 20 to 29 age bracket has risen dramatically in past weeks in testing positive for coronavirus, and she called them "spreaders."

The Unionville- Chadds Ford School District, a 77-square-mile area encompassing seven townships and serving more than 4,000 students, has had very low numbers, both in rate of coronavirus infection and deaths.

"But we need to look at the community spread," Sulieman said. "That is what's reflective of what's going on. There has not been stability, if fact there has been an increase. Stability for Chester County has not been good over the last four weeks, and certainly not the last week."

The good news, Sulieman said, is that children continue have a low hospitalization rate of about 1 to 2 percent.

Jeff Hellrung, school director, said the board will make a decision to open schools for in-person instruction based on science.

"Our goal is to make good decision based on good data," he said. 'If the decision is to stay virtual, that's what we want to do and what's what we need to do."

The high school sports program, too, has been put on hold. John Dunigan of East Marlborough Township asked school officials whether they could permit low-impact sports like golf and tennis. He said his daughter is on Unionville's golf team. However, school directors indicated they would wait for guidance from county officials, and Hellrung hinted that good news coming in a few weeks.

Justin Webb, director of technology, said 530 iPads were distributed to kindergarten through first grads, and 1.150 chromebooks were distributed in grades two through five. Webb said staff configured and handed a total of 2,200 computers to students recently.

John Sanville, superintendent, said virtual learning has been a challenge, but the district's teachers have been responsive. Many are putting in extra hours to keep instruction relevant.

"I do not believe that virtual education is as good as in person," Sanville said in a meeting with the Longwood Rotary Club. "I didn't get into education to be a cyber school superintendent. I feel very strongly we need to get kids back in the building. It's tremendously important we get our kids back in the buildings as soon as we can do it safely."

Sanville, who spoke at a state Senate hearing recently, told lawmakers the pandemic is shining a spotlight on the haves and have-nots. He said Unionville is fortunate that it can provide computers and other educational resources to students, while many other schools in the western portion of the state cannot.

Regardless, he said all educators are working harder than they ever are in a virtual environment.

"I have never worked so many hours in a week in my life than I have now," he said. 'That's fine. This is what we signed on for. Literally, I get 200 emails in a day, but now I am getting 700 to 900 emails a day. I can't keep up."

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