Public Health supports decisions by schools to begin school year with online learning

Public Health – Seattle & King County supports school districts across King County that have made the tough decision to begin the school year with online learning.

The current level of COVID-19 transmission in King County is of serious concern. The increase in COVID-19 cases is continuing with an average of 157 cases per day over the last week, up from 36 cases per day reported in early June. This is the highest volume of cases reported since early April.

Schools must consider a number of factors, including the level of community COVID-19 transmission, when deciding whether to have in-person learning. Given the current levels of transmission in the community, Public Health recognizes it would be very challenging for schools to re-open. A recent modeling report using King County data highlights that how well COVID-19 is controlled in the community directly impacts whether schools can re-open with less risk of disease transmission for students and staff.

Public Health also recognizes that schools, with engagement from families, educators, staff, and childcare organizations, need to make decisions now to be ready to offer the most effective learning and support to students, families, and staff in the fall. The changing trajectory of COVID-19 rates in the community will likely require schools to continue to assess their re-opening plans over the next several months. Public Health stands ready to help support schools in this ongoing discussion, in partnership with the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the State Department of Health (DOH).

“When it comes to COVID-19 activity, schools have been put in a position of having to make decisions based on the actions of our entire community. No educator, parent, or public health professional would choose to limit face-to-face interaction that we know is so critical for our young people, but with lives at stake, this is the difficult position schools are in,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“This is not inevitable. We know what we need to do as a community to bring transmission down so that all schools can re-open. Together, by committing to wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing, and reducing interactions with people outside of your household, we can all help get our young people back in the classroom.”

King County Executive Constantine emphasized what we all need to do to support schools. “With our current disease trajectory, I support the tough decision that some of our school districts made to start the school year remotely. I recognize that choice brings new challenges of equity to ensure every student has a successful start to the school year, and appreciate the ongoing work ahead for us all,” said Executive Dow Constantine. “The best thing we can all do to change the trendline of the outbreak is to follow Public Health’s guidelines of avoiding gatherings, wearing face coverings, maintaining social distancing, and washing hands.”

Public Health’s role and resources
Public Health has been assisting school districts by providing data and information about COVID-19 and considerations for ways schools can help protect the health of students, teachers and staff. Public Health is committed to providing schools with the support they need, including developing toolkits and other resources as schools continue to adapt to this challenging situation.

OSPI has released guidance, as has DOH to assist all K-12 schools in complying with the state requirements intended to reduce the risks for educators, staff, and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information on schools, childcare and information for colleges and universities, visit Washington State Department of Health’s K-12 information page.

Originally published July 22, 2020.