New report measures COVID data as schools re-open
Health district: data is reassuring
Last updated 2/25/2021 at 12:03am
As schools re-open, momentum toward full capacity depends on data.
A report released Feb. 13 by the Snohomish Health District and backed by the Washington state Department of Health tracks that data as schools move ahead with in-person education and continue to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
Snohomish County tallies 285 cases of COVID-19 in 201 locations since August, and a report detailing what’s next will be released every two to three weeks.
Health officials says infection-risk, in schools, is low. But county school buildings have been mostly empty.
Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said the data officials use comes from other locations, where buildings have been in-use.
He said the macro-view shows transmission in schools is low. When a case occurs, the clusters of infected people around that single case are small.
“We don't see further spread. There are occasional clusters of cases, but nothing that you know gets into the even above five or 10 cases,” he said. “We have to take that into account and find that reassuring.”
He added that full occupancy of schools has not yet been reached in Snohomish County.
But said data from the nationwide and worldwide school occupancy during COVID-19 is “really very reassuring” when the proper prevention measures are in place.
“We continue to encourage schools to gradually slowly incrementally return kids to group” education, he said.
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released the COVID-19 Outbreaks in Washington State K-12 Schools report. The report is another tool utilized to inform decisions about when and how to continue the path to onsite, full-contact learning.
The report includes data about K-12 schools across the state of Washington that experienced a COVID-19 outbreak from August to December of 2020, including both public and private schools and all learning modalities.
Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish County Health District said the advice is not to open fully, yet.
“We're not at full occupancy of schools,” he acknowledges, but he said the literature in areas where schools are in session is reassuring.
In schools where the prevention measures are in place, the transmission level is low.
He said scientific data is reassuring that reopening schools with the proper precautions can go well. He said the health district continues to encourage schools to gradually slowly incrementally return kids to group learning, in cohorts.
The schools pivoted to 100% remote learning at the start of the worldwide pandemic. Everett Public Schools and Snohomish School District, both serving Mill Creek students, are transitioning into onsite learning with a mix of hybrid and other scheduling, beginning with the youngest students. The youngest school-aged students returned in February. Older students are scheduled to return in March.
Protocols to protect students and staff include all the usual activities of masking, hand-hygiene and social distancing. Snohomish also lists on its website a practice to open windows for ventilation on school buses.
Both districts serving Mill Creek are on mid-winter break through Feb. 19. School is tentatively scheduled to end on June 18 for Snohomish School District. For Everett Public Schools, June 21 is the tentative date.
The schools are monitored for readiness and watched for change, according to a report released Feb. 13, showing it has adequate access to testing, capacity to address positive cases when they arise, and the ability to monitor spread to determine a need to alter activity to rein in any future spread.
A COVID‐19 outbreak in a K‐12 school is considered when the following criteria have been met:
• Two or more laboratory‐positive (PCR or antigen) COVID‐19 cases among students or staff.
• The cases have a symptom onset within a 14‐day period of each other.
• The cases are epidemiologically linked, meaning one case is likely to have caused another.
• The cases do not share a household.
• The cases are not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting.
The report showed that Snohomish County had a dozen outbreaks from August through December. The total number of cases associated with the outbreaks was 53, with the median of three cases per outbreak.
The Health District has also published its first COVID-19 report for schools.
“With several thousand students, staff and teachers having returned to the classroom at least part-time, this report shows that the prevention and intervention measures are working,” said Dr. Spitters. “Our schools have been working hard to make the classroom as safe as possible. I hope the community keeps masking up and physically distancing so trends continue decreasing in order for more middle and high school students can resume in-person learning.”
The DOH report will be updated every two to three weeks as schools phase into re-opening for older students. Advancement to new groups has been dependent on success with the prior group. The report is listed at https://bit.ly/3b6S8Hu.