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COVID-19

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COVID-19 outbreaks hit record high in Washington schools in September

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 30, 2021

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles.  (HOGP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. (HOGP)
By Arielle Dreher and Jim Allen The Spokesman-Review

Washington schools had more COVID-19 outbreaks in September than during any month of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health officials said the fifth wave, brought on by the more contagious delta variant, contributed to the increase in outbreaks, as well as the fact that kids returned to school full time and in-person for the first time during the pandemic. The Department of Health classifies three or more cases within a specific group to be a school outbreak.

There were 189 COVID-19 outbreaks in 179 schools from Aug. 1 through September, accounting for 1,284 cases, predominantly in students.

There were three outbreaks in Spokane County schools during that time, a new report from the Department of Health shows, accounting for 38 cases.

Despite the high number of outbreaks, the average outbreak had just five cases, indicating that other prevention measures like masking, distancing and improved ventilation are working to prevent further spread of the virus.

Outbreaks and exposures have meant many children and teens missed school this fall. The Department of Health is requiring school districts to offer a seven-day quarantine option, with a negative test on the fifth day after exposure.

Vaccines can also help keep kids in school.

“People who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine if they have no symptoms, even if they’re exposed,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary at the Department of Health, told reporters this week.

The Department of Health also asked school districts to prioritize contact tracing to places where mask compliance and distancing might not happen, like break rooms, lunch rooms, school buses or extracurricular activities.

Vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds could be available as early as next week. All students 12 and older are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but just 49% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Washington state are fully vaccinated.

In Spokane County, 37.5% of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 cases were mostly stable in local schools this week, but the University High School varsity football team’s season is over because of COVID concerns. There were 29 positive cases at the school in the past two weeks, the Central Valley School District announced on Thursday. The Titans were in position for a playoff berth; instead, players have turned in their gear.

Overall, the district reported 87 positive cases in the past two weeks, a drop from 118 last week.

Spokane Public Schools reported its third consecutive decline in positive tests. As of Thursday, the district’s one-week snapshot showed 87 positive tests and 487 people in quarantine. Last week, those numbers were 97 and 536, respectively.

Cases were spread fairly evenly; however, at least 20 people are under quarantine from the following schools: Adams, Browne, Roosevelt, Stevens, Westview and Willard elementaries, and North Central and Shadle Park high schools.

Elsewhere, the Mead School District reported 87 positive cases in the past 10 days, a drop from the 105 reported a week ago.

West Valley continued to struggle; as of Thursday, 44 students and 10 staff members had tested positive in the previous two weeks.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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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