Spokane health officer says COVID-19 outbreaks in schools ‘very likely’

SPOKANE, Wash. — Most students are less than a month away from starting school. Some are learning from home. Others will go to class.

As of Monday, the Mead School District is the only one offering in-school classes along with online learning in Spokane County. This is causing concern for Spokane County’s top health officer. Dr. Bob Lutz recently recommended that all Spokane County schools start full-time remote learning this upcoming school year.

“We know that the youngest learners right now to the best of our knowledge appear to be at low risk,” Lutz said. “But we also have to know based upon research that those individuals between the ages of 10 and 19 contract COVID-19 and transmit COVID-19 in as do adults.”

If students go back to school based on the county’s current rate of infection, Lutz said he “fully expects to see cases and very likely, outbreaks in schools.”

“I would strongly encourage looking at that remote option at least until we really start to see things move down rather than stay stagnant or go up,” Lutz explained.

Gov. Inslee released suggestions as to when schools should open, categorizing areas into a “risk range” based on transmission.

The rate of infection in Spokane County is 223 per 100,000 people, according to the Washington state Department of Health. This is three times higher than the high risk range of 75 per 100,000.

“Foreseeable future for me is months. I do not see us getting to that below 25,” Lutz said. “I question how quickly we will get to that 25, that below 25 per 100,000 in 2020, let alone in 2021.”

With some kids going back to school, what will happen if there a child has symptoms?

“They will be excused from school and the requirement for that child is that he or she will be out of school for 10 days,” Lutz said.

They can come back to school if they get a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours and they can’t have a fever.

Lutz said things get complicated when there are multiple cases in a school.

“If I have two positive cases in that class within 14 days, then the entire class will be in quarantine for 14 days,” he explained.

If there are multiple cases in a classroom, the entire school must quarantine for two weeks.

“I do express concern that allowing children to come back to school full-time when we have high rates of disease in our community will be challenging going forward,” Lutz said. “What’s essential to have safe reopening of in-person instruction was having a very low incidence rate — meaning the number of new cases.”

In Spokane County, 415 people between 10-19-years-old tested positive for COVID-19. It makes up 9.1% of the cases in the county. Dr. Bob Lutz said over the last two weeks in July, the county reported 167 cases in people 18 and under.

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