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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

School COVID-19 numbers plummeting as cases numbers among youth decline

Sixth-grader Brody Baker raises his hand during a math lesson on Jan. 13, 2022 in his classroom at Adams Elementary in Spokane. Many school districts, including Spokane Public Schools, are reporting large drops in COVID-19 cases.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Jim Allen and Arielle Dreher The Spokesman-Review

COVID-19 numbers are plummeting in almost every school district, which leaves families wondering when their children will no longer be required to wear a mask inside the classroom.

“We’ve haven’t been given anything definitive,” said Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard, “but everything we’re hearing is that they’re looking at the numbers and we’re going to hear something in the very near future.”

In the meantime, Swinyard said, the district will continue to follow the guidelines of the Washington state Department of Health and the Spokane Regional Health District.

The metrics are promising.

On Friday, Spokane Public Schools reported that 189 students and staff who had a confirmed case of COVID-19 entered a school building during that week. The district also reported that 332 people were quarantined.

That’s roughly half the number of cases and quarantines reported the previous week and far below the peak of the latest COVID-19 wave that ended the week of Jan. 20, when 941 people tested positive and 2,332 were quarantined.

“The numbers are encouraging,” Swinyard said.

The area’s second-largest district, Central Valley, reported on Monday that 258 students and staff had tested positive in the previous 10 days. Two weeks ago, that number was 1,368.

Central Valley and other regional school districts disclose case counts differently than Spokane Public Schools. At CVSD, for example, all students with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are reported, while Spokane Public Schools reports confirmed cases only when a student or staff member had entered a school building while sick.

The biggest hot spot in the Central Valley School District during the height of the outbreak was University High School, with 123 cases; as of Monday, the school had only 20 positive tests.

Numbers are also down significantly in the Mead School District, where positive tests in the previous 10 days are 227. That’s down from 883 two weeks earlier.

Most other districts are seeing case counts fall 30% to 70%.

The East Valley School District, which briefly moved its secondary students to online learning after a COVID spike, reported a steep decline.

In late January, the district of 4,200 students reported 198 cases in the previous 14 days. On Friday, it was down to 43.

Cheney School District was down to 148 cases on Monday, compared with 389 two weeks earlier.

However, some rural districts are having less success.

The Liberty School District in Spangle, with an enrollment of 655, reported 55 positive cases in the previous 14 days.

Deer Park has not updated its dashboard since Feb. 5, when it reported 121 cases in the previous 14 days.

The improvement in schools is part of an overall trend in COVID cases: They are declining in children and teens, after the omicron wave hit this age group harder than any variant previously.

State data shows that by mid-January case rates peaked in kids and teens, and those curves are on the decline.

Even so, daily case counts continue to be high.

There were 59,551 cases confirmed from Jan. 16 to Jan. 30 among Washington children and teens .

During that same time period, 217 children and teens were hospitalized with the virus.

By the end of January, hospitalizations in this age group were declining as well.

COVID can be serious for some children and lead to other conditions such as MIS-C, an inflammatory syndrome which can impact many organs.

As of Dec. 31, there were 93 confirmed and hospitalized children and teens with MIS-C in Washington.

Since January 2021, 13 children and teens in Washington have died of COVID-19 .

Children and teens have the lowest vaccination rates among state residents. So far, 34% of 5- to 11-year-olds have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine; 59% of 12- to 15-year-olds have received at least one dose; and 66% of 16- and 17 year-olds have received at least one dose.

In Spokane County, 22% of 5- to 11-year-olds have received at least one dose, and 45% of 12- to 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 45 new COVID cases on Monday, but this does not reflect the full number of cases due to technical difficulties with the state’s data reporting system.

Over the weekend, the district reported 548 additional cases.

The district also confirmed two additional deaths. There have been 1,243 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents.

There are 181 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District reported 265 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and one additional death. The district still has 2,450 backlogged cases.

There have been 869 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 128 Panhandle residents hospitalized. Kootenai Health is treating 78 COVID patients.

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.