Given the “continued upward trajectory”of COVID-19 cases in the county, Snohomish County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters on Wednesday recommended that Snohomish County public school superintendents and private school administrators plan for distance learning this fall.
A health district announcement noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated guidance for K-12 administrators to aid in preparing for the upcoming school year. Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) also issued a district planning guide for reopening schools. These recommendations, as well as a recent statement from State Superintendent Chris Reykdal, all point to the need for local schools and local public health officials to work together to make local decisions, the health district said.
The level of COVID-19 transmission in the community is one of a number of factors considered when making decisions for the coming year, the health district said. While school-age children are not typically a high-risk population for this illness, there are many staff and some students who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness due to COVID-19 because of age or underlying medical conditions. It also is important to remember that even otherwise healthy staff and students can have serious and long-lasting complications from a COVID-19 infection, and that transmission in schools may amplify transmission in the community, the district said.
Recent case investigations in Snohomish County have seen one confirmed case quickly spread through a business or an entire household, the announcement said. When considering resuming in-classroom school in the midst of high community transmission, the goal is to reduce the chances of a student or staff member spreading the disease to friends, family members, neighbors, or others who are more vulnerable.
The continued upward trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Snohomish County is concerning, the health district said. The county’s case rates have continued to climb for more than a month and the rate is now at nearly 100 cases per 100,000 population. This is close to the rate Snohomish County experienced in March when schools first closed.
“Taking all of this into consideration, I have concluded that reopening schools for in-person classes at this time poses a substantial risk to the school and the surrounding community — especially its medically vulnerable members,” Spitters said. “We know that fall is quickly approaching, and plans need to be finalized on how schools will start the academic year. By making this recommendation now, I hope that provides our schools and their staff and families with as much time as possible to prepare for online learning.”
The ability to safely resume in-person instruction in schools is directly linked to the actions of the community. The health district reminds residents of the following steps necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and create an environment that allows for schools to reopen for on-site learning. These include:
- Wearing a face cover in public
- Maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from non-household members
- Avoiding gatherings larger than five people from outside of your household, and keeping your social group consistent
- Staying home and getting tested if you are feeling ill
The health district added that the COVID-19 pandemic is fluid and continually evolving, and said it would continue to work with local schools in the coming weeks and months.