Public Health–Seattle & King County supports local efforts to open classrooms for younger learners

Earlier this week, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) updated its COVID-19 guidance for K-12 schools to encourage in-person learning for younger learners.

Emerging research and data from multiple sources show that schools can successfully limit the transmission of COVID-19 when they follow strong health and safety protocols. While no place has zero COVID-19 transmission risk, following recommended health and safety measures will diminish the risk for educators and kids to get back into the classroom.

At current levels of transmission in King County (which have been above 400 cases per 100,000 residents for the past 14 days), the updated guidance recommends a phased approach to in-person learning for younger learners and those with the highest needs. Schools should prioritize pre-kindergarten through third grade. Students through fifth grade can return to in-person learning in groups of 15 or fewer, provided schools can meet all health and safety protocols.

When community transmission rates consistently stay under 350 cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days, DOH recommends phasing in all elementary students and gradually returning middle and then high school students for in-person learning.

Local school administrators are ultimately responsible for deciding whether to resume in-person learning, as long as they can implement the health and safety measures that are required by law, including:

  • Protecting staff and students at higher risk for severe COVID-19 while ensuring access to learning
  • Grouping students (required in elementary, recommended for middle and high school students) as described in the DOH Tools and Metrics document.
  • Practicing physical distancing among students and staff
  • Promoting frequent hand washing or sanitizing
  • Promoting and requiring the use of face covering use among students and staff
  • Increasing cleaning and disinfection
  • Improved ventilation

“Following these health and safety practices correctly and consistently will greatly reduce, but not eliminate, the risk for COVID-19 in schools,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Public Health has a number of tools and resources available for schools as they prepare for in-person learning, and a point of contact from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) will also be available to assist schools.

In addition to the new recommendations, Governor Inslee announced $3 million in CARES Act funds for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to support schools in their health and safety work.

Originally posted December 18, 2020