Stanwood-Camano fourth- and fifth-graders won’t return to their classroom until at least Nov. 9 because of the latest COVID-19 spike.
The School District, which planned to bring those students back on Oct. 26, announced the two-week delay after a Tuesday afternoon meeting between Snohomish Health District officials and county school superintendents.
In that meeting, Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County’s top health officer, recommended schools pause any plans to bring back students in fourth grade and beyond.
The Stanwood-Camano district started the school year Sept. 10 with kindergartners and other high-needs groups, and then the district brought in students in first through third grades on Oct. 5. Those students can continue to attend school in-person.
“These recommendations are a ceiling for what’s permissible, but not the floor. Each school and family needs to make decisions on what is best for them,” Spitters said. “We will continue to monitor case rates, hospitalization impacts, test positivity rates, and trends in cases occurring in schools. These recommendations may be revised if the COVID-19 situation continues to deteriorate in Snohomish County.”
In Snohomish County, the infection rate shot up to 101.1 per 100,000 residents from Oct. 4-17. The infection rate in Island County is at 27.1 cases per 100,000 people, and the rate in Skagit County is up to 46.4 infections per 100,000 residents.
The state Department of Health recommends a county’s infection rate be within a range of 25 to 75 COVID cases per 100,000 residents to have in-person classes. Moving above 75 infections per 100,000 residents puts the county into the “high risk” category, further limiting reopening efforts for schools, sports and businesses.
Snohomish County school leaders will meet with the Health District weekly to analyze new data and key health metrics to potentially adjust plans, said Maurene Stanton, the Stanwood-Camano School District executive director of human resources.
“We will be looking at all the metrics — infection rate, hospitalization rate, cases by ZIP code, for example,” Stanton said. “It’s not just one metric we’re looking at.”
Health District officials said examples of factors that would call for greater restrictions affecting in-person education may include increased frequency or difficulty in controlling school-based outbreaks, evidence that schools are amplifying transmission in the community, dwindling acute care hospital capacity or statewide directives further limiting in-person attendance.
“The best way to stabilize children’s education and permit a greater return to in-person learning is for the entire community to reverse the current upward trend in COVID transmission,” health officials said.
Currently, there are about 550 students in grades K-3 who are in school buildings Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, Stanton said.
As of Oct. 20, there has not been a student or staff member in a school building who has tested positive for COVID-19, she said.
Washington state Health Department officials said the cases are climbing regionwide because of widespread disease transmission, not because of localized outbreaks. State officials worry that a surge in cases could have serious consequences for the healthcare system, local plans to open schools, the state’s economic recovery, and beyond.
“When this happens, we place everyone, but particularly our elders, parents, grandparents and those with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic disease at great risk," Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. "A surge in COVID-19 along with flu season puts us at enormous risk of overwhelming our hospital systems and undoing other important statewide progress toward containment. However, all of us doing our part can turn this trend around.”