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Health officials get ‘encouraging news’ from studying 84 COVID outbreaks in Washington schools

(File photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Schools in Washington state are seeing low levels of COVID-19 transmission so far, according to the state Department of Health.

A new report details data about 84 outbreaks from Aug. 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020 across K-12 schools in the state. The report includes both public and private schools and all learning modalities. An outbreak is defined as two or more positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff with an onset of symptoms within a 14-day period of each other.

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In the nearly five-month period studied, 13 counties reported outbreaks that were associated with schools. In total, the 84 outbreaks included 305 COVID-19 cases. Of those cases, half were among students age 18 or under. The DOH says 64% of the outbreaks involved two or three cases.

“There’s encouraging news here,” Laura Newman, PhD, MHS, COVID-19 Outbreak Response Senior Epidemiologist said in a news release. “We are seeing fairly low levels of COVID-19 transmission within school settings so far. The majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools involve three or fewer cases, and school administrators, teachers, and staff are doing a good job of implementing preventative measures that limit the spread of COVID-19.”

“Our goal is to help schools protect the health of their staff and students, the families they go home to and the broader community. We are sharing these data so that educators, families, local public health, and communities can see and learn from what’s happening in schools with regards to COVID-19,” added Lacy Fehrenbach, MPH, Deputy Secretary of Health, COVID-19 Response.

Of the 305 cases, 42% were non-Hispanic white, 9% Hispanic, 4% other, and 45% unknown. Sixty-one percent were among females. The age groups with the most cases were 5-9 years old and 10-14 years old at 17% each.  None of the cases were hospitalized overnight, and there were no reported deaths, according to the state’s study.

The study included all modes of learning: In-person, hybrid, remote, remote with exceptions, and other/unknown.  At the time of the outbreaks, 12% of the schools were teaching in person, 22% were using a hybrid instruction model, 6% were using a remote learning model, 12% were operating with a remote model with exceptions, and 48% were using an other learning model or the data on their method was unavailable. The DOH says the exceptions include in person learning for students with special learning needs.

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In the study, the county with the most number of cases associated with schools was Spokane at 151. Snohomish County made up 53 of the 305 cases, and Clark County made up 24. King County had 20 of the 305 cases in total.

The state Department of Health plans to release another report on outbreaks in schools at the end of February. That report is expected to include data from Aug. 1, 2020 through Jan. 31, 2021.

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