The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announced on Wednesday that they have updated metrics to help local leaders and school officials make decisions about in-person learning and the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the school environment.
“Today we are taking a step forward in getting school children back in the classroom,” said Governor Jay Inslee in a press release. “The science has shown, and our school officials have proven that with diligent focus on health and safety measures, it is possible to bring children back to the classroom while also protecting our students, staff and community from further transmission of COVID-19.”
In addition to updating the metrics to include revisions to the COVID-19 incidence rates, new health and safety measures are now required by law for in-person learning to protect staff and students who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 while ensuring access to learning.
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Students must be grouped, which will be required in elementary, and recommended for middle and high school students. Physical distancing among staff and students must be practiced, as well as the promotion of frequent hand washing and sanitazing.
Face coverings must be used by students and staff, there must be increased cleaning and disinfecting measures, and improved ventilation.
“The changes to our school metrics are based on emerging research and data gathered by state and national health education officials and the early experiences of schools in Washington state and the nation,” said Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach in a press release. “The changes recognize that with robust health and safety measures in place, transmission in the school setting appears to be limited.”
The Department of Health suggests three categories for re-introducing in-person learning:
- For schools in counties where COVID-19 cases are “low” (less than 50 residents per 100,000), in-person learning should be made available for all students.
- In counties where COVID-19 cases are “moderate” (between 50 and 350 residents per 100,000), in-person learning should be phased in, starting with elementary students not already attending in person and middle school students, followed by high school students.
- Finally, in counties where COVID-19 cases are “high” (over 350,000 per 100,000 residents), it’s recommended that schools should only offer in-person instruction for elementary and high-need students in small groups of 15 students or fewer.