The Spokane Regional Health District has ordered unvaccinated students at schools where mumps cases have been reported to stay home.
The order applies to certain schools in the Mead School District, East Valley School District and Spokane Public Schools, including Mt. Spokane High School, Regal Elementary, Rogers High School and Trent Elementary.
Students must have received the MMR vaccine or have a blood test to prove that they are immune in order to stay in school. The order also applies to staff members at those schools.
“Our health officer has the legal authority to issue exclusion orders in the midst of an outbreak,” said health district spokeswoman Kim Papich. “We can mandate that they’re excluded from school or work for 25 days. When we see multiple cases at a school, that’s when we issue the exclusion order.”
Each school has a different start date for the exclusion order depending on when its first case of mumps was reported. Staff members at some of the schools have a different start date than students at the same school. The first order to take effect, which starts Tuesday, applies to students at Trent Elementary. The order for staff members at the school starts Jan. 24.
The move has sent district officials scrambling for a way to make sure the affected students have a way to keep up with their schoolwork while they’re gone.
The students could potentially be out of school for much longer than 25 days. Papich said that if an additional case is reported at a school under an exclusion order, the 25-day clock starts over.
East Valley School District Superintendent Kelly Shea said he worries about how much school his students might miss. “This thing could go on,” he said. “Having kids excluded for 25 days is over half a month of school.”
There are currently 17 students at Trent Elementary who will have to stay home. That number was 35 on Monday, but Shea said some parents got their children vaccinated. He said he doesn’t expect the number to drop any lower.
“I think the ones that were going to get vaccinated got vaccinated,” he said.
Spokane Public Schools spokesman Kevin Morrison said the number of students affected is low in the region’s largest school district. There are 17 unvaccinated students at Regal Elementary and 27 at Rogers High School.
Mead School District executive director of student services Jared Hoadley said his staff was still in the process of notifying affected families from Mt. Spokane High School Friday evening. The district has eight confirmed mumps cases but the exclusion order only applies to the high school, Hoadley said.
There are now 36 confirmed and probable cases of the mumps in Spokane County. There are currently more cases of the mumps in Washington state than in the rest of the country combined.
Many of the people in Spokane County who have caught the mumps have received a measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in the past. The vaccine itself is 88 percent effective after two doses, so it is still possible to catch the disease even after vaccination. However, those who have been vaccinated usually have milder symptoms and are less contagious, Papich said.
Keeping unvaccinated students home is about more than halting the spread of the disease, Papich said. “That’s more to protect them than it is to stem the disease,” she said.
Papich said Spokane County’s outbreak may be related to an earlier outbreak in King County but it’s impossible to know for sure. “It’s difficult to ever determine who the original source case is,” she said.
The exclusion order only applies to a few schools right now but it could be expanded if more cases continue to be reported.
“We’re seeing transmissions all over the county,” she said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.