Report: Opening schools without preventative measures may lead to ‘significant increase’ of COVID-19

OLYMPIA, Wash – As parents and students eye the start of school this fall, the Washington Department of Health and Institute for Disease Modeling issued a new report Wednesday, saying schools need to have preventative measures in place to prevent a “significant increase” in cases of COVID-19.

The IDM used a model to simulate various scenarios for the reopening of schools. The model simulated the first three months of school and found “King County schools may be able to reopen without sustained epidemic growth, but only with several countermeasures in place and if community-wide transmission is low.” Without that, the number of new COVID-19 cases could double over that time.

The measures included in the report are grouping students by age, physical distancing, wearing masks and safe hygiene. The report says that could reduce the spread within schools, but it’s not clear the effect they would have on transmission in the rest of the community.

The report also says that even with those measures, students and staff would need to be screened daily for symptoms.

“Every part of our society is connected when it comes to COVID-19,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, the public health officer for Seattle and King County. “How well we control transmission in the workplaces, businesses, recreation, families and social networks are related and all impact whether we can safely reopen schools.”

Districts across the state and across the country are currently working through plans for how to safely reopen schools in the fall. Some districts in southern California have already committed to distance/online learning. Spokane Public Schools, for example, is working on a number of options and hopes to have a plan to the state by early August.

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The plans for Spokane Schools include alternating schedules for middle and high school students and a limit of 21 students in elementary school classrooms. Masks would be required for all students under a plan released by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction earlier this summer.

Spokane’s chief health officer Dr. Bob Lutz said he’s working with districts to advise them of their plans. But, he said, they’re waiting for some guidance from the CDC on what type of community incidence rate would be acceptable for the reopening of schools.

Right now, Spokane County has 160 cases per 100,000 people.

You can read the full report here. 

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