Why are schools planning to bring more students back to in-person learning while case rates in Whatcom are high?
We understand why planning to bring more students back to in-person learning at a time when COVID-19 activity in our community has never been higher may seem contradictory. Although cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 do occur among school staff and students, recent research shows that case rates in schools tend to be lower than their surrounding communities. Experience has borne this out - less than one percent of cases in our county since October have resulted from transmission at a school or childcare setting. This tells us that the measures taken in schools to prevent transmission are working.
Public health works together with schools to determine which plan best provides for their students’ physical and developmental well-being, using a decision-making framework developed in partnership with OSPI and DOH. Because of the critical role schools play in children’s physical, developmental and mental health, Washington state’s updated school directive stated that K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other safety measures have been exhausted, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. The decision whether or not to roll back to remote learning ultimately lies with schools.
How does the Health Department know that transmission in schools is low? We have a very thorough system for case and contact investigation when we learn of a new confirmed case:
We interview the person who has tested positive, and ask where they’ve been, and who they’ve been in close contact with.
Our staff epidemiologist then reviews case interview data to determine a most likely place of exposure and transmission, when possible.
What we’ve found with this process is that less than one percent of cases in our county since October have been the result of transmission while in person at a school or childcare setting.
When will teachers and staff be able to get the vaccine?There have been some unexpected changes in guidance from federal and state agencies this week. The Washington State Department of Health is advising that the next group, people aged 70 and over and people 50 and over living in multigenerational households (i.e., with elders), will become eligible for the vaccine “in a matter of days.” Please check our recent news flash for the best information that we currently have. We will be posting the latest updates on our web site, http://whatcomcounty.us/covidvaccine.
When we have additional information about future phases or protocols, we will be sure to share it. Watch our COVID-19 vaccine page for more information as it becomes available. You can also sign up for email updates. Select Health - Vaccine Updates for Schools to subscribe to email updates with the latest local information about the COVID-19 vaccine. Previous updates are on this page.