The Stanwood-Camano School District is continuing to pause efforts to bring back more students into buildings until multiple weeks of decreasing infection rates are recorded in both Island and Snohomish counties, according to a statement Wednesday evening from the district.
The district said it is postponing bringing back fourth- and fifth-grade students into a hybrid model until Nov. 30 at the earliest. It previously planned to bring those students back on Nov. 9.
"The district also has made the difficult decision to not return our middle and high school students in a hybrid model until second semester at the earliest," officials said. "We know this decision is disappointing for students, families and our staff, but we believe that this is necessary due to the rapid case increase over the past several weeks."
The second semester starts Feb. 1.
Case rates continue to climb in the Stanwood-Camano area, and local health experts worry the trend will continue and possibly lead to tighter restrictions.
In Snohomish County as of Monday, the COVID-19 infection rate shot up to 121.9 per 100,000 residents from Oct. 11-24 — near the highest rate the county has recorded during the pandemic.
The infection rate in Island County has increased to 43.6 cases per 100,000 people from Oct. 11-24 and the rate in Skagit County is has steadily increased to 54.2 infections per 100,000 residents, according to the state Department of Health.
The School District originally planned to bring students in grades 4 and 5 back into buildings on Oct. 26. But paused the effort after an Oct. 20 meeting between Snohomish Health District officials and county school superintendents.
The 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.
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.
Currently, there are about 550 students in grades K-3 who are in school buildings Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The return of high school sports depends on a variety of factors.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has announced return-to-play guidelines for each individual prep sport based on virus transmission rates in each county. The plan puts counties into three levels — high, moderate and low. Snohomish County is at the high level.
However, Gov. Jay Inslee has since relaxed some guidelines for youth sports, and the WIAA plans to meet in November to potentially tweak its guidelines.
“Schools may have more options, more room to make decisions,” Stanwood High athletic director Tom Wilfong said.
If COVID-19 rates are low enough, local health officials give the green light, School District officials approve and the state Department of Health's guidelines allow, it is possible high school sports could resume before Stanwood High students return in a hybrid model, Wilfong said.
The current WIAA plan allows for Season 2 sports — basketball, wrestling and boys swim — to start practice Dec. 28 if guidelines and health metrics allow.
Since Oct. 1, there have been 1,685 new confirmed cases in Snohomish County, including 38 in Stanwood — 18 of which were confirmed in the previous week, according to Snohomish Health District data updated Oct. 28. Stanwood had 49 cases from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30.
Since Oct. 1, Island County has recorded 72 new cases, including 23 on Camano, according to the Island County Public Health data as of Oct. 28.
"We’re now seeing infections among older populations growing as well as hospitalizations," Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a virtual news conference Tuesday. "I really can’t stress this enough, if you want to prevent another shutdown, please wear a mask, social distance and limit any unnecessary gatherings — particularly Halloween and other holidays.
"I know that’s tough, but the more people who get together the higher the risk," he said.
Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County’s top health officer, said that infections are increasing across all age groups — a first for the area.
"We’ve seen increases in children, school-age children, adolescents, and ... older adults," Spitters said. "So it’s everyone."
Spitters and state health officials said their contact tracing investigations show the increases are largely due to people having social gatherings with family or friends without wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.
"We’ve really got to all get on the same page," Spitters said. "Those kinds of things are sadly something for the future, and we’ve got to forego it now because shortcutting it just holds us back from the destination of getting beyond."
Health officials said they worry that a surge in cases — particularly an increase in hospitalizations — could result in more restrictions.
Somers said that while "there’s nothing that is imminent in terms of restrictions," he is concerned the steep spike in cases could burden hospitals. If that happens, "I think anything is possible," he said.
"There’s no time like the present to try to turn it around," Spitters said. "The sooner we do that, the greater our chance of avoiding a hospital surge."
Somers said redoubling efforts to fight the virus is also needed to help the local economy.
"Small businesses particularly have had a really horrible year," he said. "We want to try to help as many of them as possible. Want to get our economy going again. But we’ve got to get the infections under control and we don’t want our hospitals to get overwhelmed."
Washington state Health Department officials said the cases are climbing regionwide because of widespread disease transmission, not because of localized outbreaks. State officials said if 95% of people wear masks it could save about 1,000 local lives by February.
“Any spike in COVID-19 cases will jeopardize our progress toward reopening schools, strain our healthcare system and increase risks during holiday gatherings,” Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach said. “High rates in the community increase the chance that someone at your gathering—even people you know well and trust—could have COVID-19. If we act now, we can get these increases in control in time for the holidays.”
Health officials urge those who do choose to gather with others, take steps to reduce risk.
“Some folks think we can just take vulnerable people, and put them in a bottle, put a cork on top of it and protect them until a vaccine shows up,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference Tuesday. “It just isn’t possible.”
Executive Somers & Dr. Spitters gave updates on the response to COVID in Snohomish County. The takeaway: There's no shortcut out of this pandemic. Though we know reducing social interactions is hard, it's also crucial to slow the spread of disease.— SnoHD (@SnoHD) October 27, 2020