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Spokane County crests 7,000 COVID-19 cases as school cases also grow

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 29, 2020

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

As health officials predicted, COVID-19 is present in school districts throughout the Inland Northwest, although no closures have been reported due to cases thus far.

Coeur d’Alene Public Schools has had nine confirmed COVID-19 cases since hybrid, in-person learning has been in effect.

The majority of those cases are in high school students and have led to dozens of close contacts being quarantined. The district is set to have all grades attend classes inperson next week, with masks required.

The Lakeland School District has at least 10 COVID-19 cases as of last week.

The Mead School District has one case in an elementary school confirmed, and seven close contacts in quarantine related to that case.

Spokane Public Schools is set to bring kindergartners back for in-person learning next Wednesday, as are the West Valley and Central Valley districts.

Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz has encouraged districts to bring back early learners, especially after looking at local data. Since July 1, there have been fewer than 30 children between the ages of 4 and 6 who have tested test positive for the virus.

“I feel comfortable with that age group (returning),” Lutz told reporters on Monday.

He said he has concerns, however, about school staff members spreading the virus.

“When you have staff in buildings, you do everything you can and will to maintain that guidance with mask wearing and things, but in break rooms it’s real common to let your guard down,” Lutz said.

Requiring early learners to wear masks will be “essential” to keep the virus from circulating as well, he said.

“I think numerous organizations have come out and demonstrated that young children can wear face coverings,” Lutz said. “It’s a function of how well they are trained to do so.”

It is expected that COVID-19 will find its way into schools, especially with the current incidence rate in Spokane County. Virus cases do not necessarily have to lead to closure, however. Lutz said the context of what’s happening in each school is important. Are staff members bringing the virus in? Are students getting the virus outside of school settings? These questions matter to understanding how widespread transmission will become.

“To date many of our children are seeing infections outside of the school, which is credit to the fact that recommendations are working,” Lutz said.

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 61 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the county total over the 7,000-case mark, to 7,050 total cases.

Spokane County now has more cases than Snohomish County, meaning only three counties have more cases than Spokane County in the state. It took less than two weeks for the county to add 1,000 cases to its toll this month, indicating an increase in virus activity locally.

Health officials also confirmed an additional death in Spokane County, bringing the total to 168. There are 38 patients receiving treatment for COVID-19 in local hospitals, and 36 of them are county residents.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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