On August 4, the Yakima Health District strongly urged local school officials to implement distance learning for all students except for those that were most educationally at-risk.
At the time, Yakima County had almost 339 cases per 100,000 in the previous 14-day period and approximately 30 hospitalizations due to COVID-19. These numbers put Yakima County at more than 4 times the recommended threshold for any type of in-person learning, per the Department of Health recommendations.
Now, after reviewing the local Yakima Health District data, as of September 24, our local case rate over the past three weeks has stabilized between 95-115 cases/100,000 population over 14 days, and hospitalization rates for COVID-19 across the county have also remained stable between 9-14 cases daily.
There are several communities within Yakima County that have remained below the 75 cases/100,000/14-day benchmark recommended by the Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH) for in-person hybrid learning.
The Washington State Department of Health guidelines recommend distance learning until COVID-19 disease activity is at a moderate level, defined as 25-75 cases/100,000 population over 14 days. However, these same guidelines recommend consideration of other local factors such as COVID-19 test positivity, hospital and ICU capacity, stability of case counts, and the ability of schools to implement mitigation strategies. While current case counts place Yakima County in the category of higher (not highest) risk for transmission, many other factors, place Yakima County in moderate risk categories.
It is the Yakima Health District’s recommendation that the community capitalizes on the collective achievements we have made in reducing and stabilizing case counts and take this opportunity to take measured steps forward towards in-person education. For this reason, on September 25 YHD sent a letter to local school officials recommending they consider:
• Advancing in-person learning for grades K-5 as early as October 12th pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates. Schools must observe all safety recommendations including cohorting students, ensuring daily health screenings are completed, managing masking requirements, enforcing handwashing, providing for and enforcing social distancing requirements, ensuring proper disinfection, and consulting with YHD regarding any known or suspected COVID-19 in students or staff. Remote learning options must be provided to those families preferring this option.
• Advancing hybrid learning for grades 6-8 as early as November 2nd (minimum of 3 weeks from reopening of K-5) pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates and observing all safety recommendations above.
• Advancing hybrid learning for grades 9-12 as early as November 23rd (minimum of 3 weeks from reopening of grades 6-8) pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates and observing all safety recommendations above.
It is anticipated that it will only be necessary to close schools and revert to distance learning if outbreaks occur within schools themselves or should community transmission reach a rate requiring a return to previous social distancing restrictions, including distance learning.
Medically fragile and high-risk individuals are still recommended to work and learn remotely when feasible, and distance learning must continue to be offered to those families judging the risks of in-person learning to outweigh the benefits.