No Washington schools would reopen to all students under late-2020 threshold

Aug 24, 2021, 5:02 AM | Updated: 11:12 am
(AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

In December 2020, Gov. Inslee set a threshold for districts trying to figure out whether to return to school in person. If the state were to return to those metrics today, no schools would be reopening to all students.

The metrics were as follows, according to a MyNorthwest story on Dec. 16, 2020:

  • Districts where COVID cases represent less than 50 residents per 100,000 people: In-person learning should be made available to all students.
  • Districts where COVID cases represent between 50 and 350 residents per 100,000 people: Districts are encouraged to phase in in-person learning, starting with elementary and middle school students.
  • Districts COVID cases are greater than 350 per 100,000 people: Districts are encouraged to bring elementary students “and those with the highest needs” back into classrooms in small groups of 15 or fewer.

Currently, the statewide rolling average for cases sits at 481.6 per 100,000 people.

Only six counties sit in the middle range (50-350 residents per 100,000). Those counties are: Whitman (287 cases per 100K); Ferry (240 cases per 100K); Jefferson (239 cases per 100,000); King (347 cases per 100K); Kittitas (307 cases per 100K); and San Juan (179 cases per 100K). By the December 2020 standards, schools in those six counties would be encouraged to phase in in-person learning, starting with elementary and middle school students. High school students would remain at home, online.

However, this time around, vaccines are available to all high school students.

School districts in the other 33 counties in Washington state would be “encouraged to bring elementary students ‘and those with the highest needs’ back into classrooms in small groups of 15 or fewer” if the state were using December’s metrics.

Of course, much has changed since December 2020 when Washington and most of the country was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. We just barely had a vaccine available to health care workers and those most at risk. Now, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for everyone 16 years and older, and there are vaccines available to people 12 years and older that can be found at your neighborhood grocery store pharmacy for free.

In fact, as of Aug. 17, the Washington State Department of Health reports that 71.5% of the eligible population (ages 12+) in the state have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 357 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed across the United States as of Aug. 16, 2021.

That number does not include students younger than 12 years old, however, who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine.

Find a location to get vaccinated here.

What’s also different now, as school is about to start across the state, is the delta variant. Washington state is in the midst of a fourth surge in cases, according to the state Department of Health dashboard, and health officials say the delta variant is more transmissible than COVID strains we saw last year.

On Monday, Pierce County reported a case rate of 529.3 per 100,000 between July 30 and Aug. 12. Additionally, four news deaths were reported. Their ages ranged from a woman in her 50s and a man in his 100s.

“Our case rate is now the highest it’s been during the pandemic and we passed 60,000 total cases,” the county wrote in its update. “We’re also seeing high rates of serious illness. Our hospitalization rate is close to its peak.”

Pierce County’s hospitalization rate is currently 11.1 per 100,000.

That all said, Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says schools will fully reopen in the next couple of weeks.

“We are going to be in person,” Reykdal told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula in July. “It won’t look like it did three years ago, or two years ago, but a little more like last spring where students are still going to have to wear face coverings, as well as staff.”

Want schools to stay open? WA Superintendent says ‘get vaccinated’

“Obviously, we hoped by now we could start giving some choice to families about that. But this delta variant is, quite frankly, a very different beast than we saw in the earlier variants,” he added.

Since then, Reykdal has requested all educators be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18. Gov. Inslee granted that request by making it a state mandate. If educators are not vaccinated, they risk losing their job.

Gov. Inslee also expanded the current indoor mask mandate for all unvaccinated people in the state to include those who are vaccinated. The expanded mandate took effect Aug. 23.

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No Washington schools would reopen to all students under late-2020 threshold