Bringing students back to school buildings for face-to-face study does not seem to drive coronavirus transmission significantly, according to Washington state health officials, suggesting that buildings may reopen. as long as there are strong health and safety measures in place.
The statement from Lacy Fehrenbach, one of the state’s top health officials, matches emerging data from inside and outside the United States, suggesting that schools – especially elementary schools – aren’t doing coronavirus spread.
The state has recorded 36 coronavirus outbreaks in schools since the start of the pandemic, of which 26 have been since September 1, Fehrenbach, deputy health minister in charge of COVID-19 response at the Ministry of Health State of Washington, said during Wednesday’s press conference. An October 22 report from DOH found that 10 of those outbreaks were reported between October 10 and 17.
Outbreaks include at least two cases between staff or students within two weeks, and signs that transmission has occurred on school grounds. Nearly all documented outbreaks included fewer than five cases, Fehrenbach said.
Only 57 school districts, which together serve about 3% of Washington students, are serving more than three-quarters of their students directly, state data show.
Across the state, coronavirus infections are on the rise, with infections and hospitalizations increasing in both the east and west of the state.
Attempts to collect coronavirus data in US schools are fragmented, and research on coronavirus transmission in schools has not been addressed. Many states do not systematically record case counts. One of the largest national databases tracking school outbreaks, run by Brown University economist Emily Oster, based on community source reports from individual counties. To date, no representative studies have provided conclusive evidence of the role of schools in disease transmission.
But state officials say the available data is encouraging.
“We are seeing promising signs and signs of hope that we can safely open schools, with good health and safety measures in place,” Fehrenbach said. “This is similar to what we are seeing when we look at national data.”
Health officials did not describe how they gathered school data during Wednesday’s briefings. They also did not report total school-related coronavirus cases. A DOH spokesperson made it clear Thursday that local health jurisdictions are sending DOH information about school outbreaks and not individual cases. State education officials said they were also not diary.
However, some school districts have reopened so that face-to-face learning regularly updates and self-posts case numbers. For example, Moses Lake has confirmed 26 cases this school year as of Thursday. Other counties, such as Clarkston, are posting weekly updates on current cases. Clarkston reported the current five cases last week.
But these data and data that the state collects provide a limited view of the coronavirus risk in Washington schools. Since there are so few direct school districts, it is not clear if the model would be maintained if more districts reopen.
State officials also did not describe whether the outbreaks they noted occurred in places with high rates of coronavirus prevalence in the community. Therefore, it is not clear whether these incidents support or disprove an increasing amount of evidence that schools should close when local cases are high.
Fehrenbach reiterated that school districts should exercise caution when opening buildings, and cite a long list of state requirements for schools that choose to reopen. Students and staff are to wear masks, stay away from each other on campus, and screen for coronavirus symptoms.
Epidemiologists and education experts say there is no perfect recipe for a time of reopening. But many are calling for more coordinated data collection efforts to help drive the reopening effort.
This week, the director of the Center for Public Education Innovation in Seattle, Robin Lake, urged the US Department of Education to lead the coronavirus data collection effort. Lake and her colleagues are leading national research on the district’s reopening plan.
Other researchers say they are seeking funding for coronavirus studies focused on schools.
Brandon Guthrie, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at the University of Washington, said: “At the moment we are in a pandemic, it’s really quite surprising that we have little data for sure. in absolute quantity. “The solid data you need at the population level to show how schools are playing a role”
With a few exceptions, he said, the available data did not show “really large numbers transmitted from schools.” But again, the data is murky. The number of cases from reopening places while high levels of transmission in the community tell only part of the story: The high numbers in schools may reflect the level of transmission in the community, but The case index does not clarify the role of the school.