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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 6, 2020
CONTACT: Heather Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – The Snohomish Health District has seen two record-setting days of new confirmed cases received in a single day. On Wednesday, the Health District received 182 new cases. These high numbers mean that the rolling two-week case rate through November 7 will see another significant increase.
While the Health District is working to follow-up on the newest cases, a number of new reports and have been released this week:
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released a new report by the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) that quantifies how various diagnostic screening scenarios could help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission associated with reopening schools. The report, the third in a series by IDM, affirms that while returning to in-person instruction is not zero-risk, the risks could be significantly reduced through school-based preventive measures, cohorting, hybrid scheduling, and a phased-in approach that brings back K-5 grades first.
In the context of such preventive measures, the report did not find additional benefit from routine testing of asymptomatic individuals in the school setting. For more information on the report, see DOH’s press release.
The report continues to support the fall guidance and decision tree released by DOH and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Given this, the Health District’s guidance issued October 20 have not changed:
“Risk assessment and values vary widely across interested parties, with some wanting much more in-person learning and others much less,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Snohomish Health District. “As the local health officer, my role is to help local school leaders apply to Snohomish County the guidance provided by DOH and its subject matter experts.”
All pathways forward carry some risk and uncertainty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The absence of a zero-risk pathway, the novelty of the situation, and the residual uncertainty in the evidence base are implicit factors affecting all of our respective roles in this.
These processes are also influenced by risk tolerance, values, and other factors that vary from family-to-family and community-to-community. The Health District’s role is to provide K-12 leadership with what we know about the COVID-19 risks and the means to mitigate them. It is then in the school leadership’s domain to take that guidance and incorporate it into their decision making and operations with respect to the students’ education.
Our guidance to schools focuses on elements that are well in accord with the DOH’s existing framework for K-12 learning:
The current, ongoing community-wide increase in COVID-19 transmission has not been linked to transmission in schools so far, but rather has been driven by transmission in private social gatherings where masks are not being worn and in some workplaces with social distancing or other prevention deficits. While sporadic cases and clusters of cases have been and will continue to be detected in school settings (both with and without in-person learning), mitigation and control efforts have been successful.
As shared by DOH in the IDM report briefing on November 5, school-based outbreaks (≥2 linked cases) have been reported in just 32 instances with 110 secondary cases statewide —a very small proportion of the community-wide transmission that is occurring. Here in Snohomish County, there have been 6 school-based outbreaks involving 18 total cases. There have been more cases involving students and staff, but the exposure was community-acquired or close contact in a setting other than the school.
These findings are consistent with findings in IDM’s study, suggesting that incorporating the full suite of mitigation efforts listed above will be highly effective in limiting school-based transmission and its impact on community transmission.
“The public health community’s interpretation of the COVID-19 literature is that the preponderance of empiric data suggests that while transmission from elementary school-aged children may occur, it is substantially lower in relative magnitude compared to older children and adults,” added Dr. Spitters. “Our current thinking is that schools conducting cohorted, hybrid in-person learning with the above prevention measures in place are unlikely to experience uncontrolled transmission, nor are they likely to exacerbate community based transmission.”
The Snohomish Health District has been working to improve the speed for lab results and notification of results. Next week, there will be a transition between labs and registration portals. These moves will decrease the turnaround time from an average of 3-4 business days to 2-3 calendar days.
Registration is now open for appointments Monday through Wednesday. On Thursday, the Health District is scheduled to move to UW Labs for the processing of tests. Those tested Thursday moving forward will be able to access their results directly from a lab portal, with instructions provided at the time of testing. The new registration portal for appointments Thursday and beyond will be available no later than Wednesday, November 11. All information will still be accessed at www.snohd.org/testing.
Drive-thru testing will continue at the 3900 Broadway site in Everett next week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday thru Friday. With daylight hours decreasing, and testing volumes seen earlier in the day, the Health District no longer offers evening testing appointments.
In addition to the Everett site, the Health District will also be offering testing at the Lynnwood Food Bank on Tuesday, November 10. Appointments will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 5320 176th St SW.
Once the transition to the new system is complete, the Health District will also be able to look at adding more locations and/or days for testing in the near future.
Testing is open to anyone, regardless of symptoms, but remains strongly encouraged for individuals that fit the following criteria:
With the increasing number of cases, the call volumes from individuals and businesses have also increased. The Health District opened a new call center to help answer questions related to testing, route calls for those businesses reporting a positive test result in their workforce, or to help those without internet access or needing language interpreter services. That number is 425.339.5278, and the call center will be staffed 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Callers after hours or on weekends can leave a message, which will be returned on the next business day.
Fall and winter are a time when respiratory illnesses tend to be extra good at getting around. And this year, when we talk about respiratory illnesses, we have to focus on more than the flu or the common cold. Now it’s COVID season, too.
These illnesses generally spread in the same ways – a combination of people in close proximity and droplets from our mouths when we cough, sneeze, talk or just breathe. The droplets can carry a virus from one person to another.
Factors like colder weather and fewer daylight hours drive people indoors with the windows shut, and then there are holidays when groups of family and friends typically gather to celebrate. More people together in enclosed spaces make for opportune situations for illness to spread.
This isn’t anything new. A lot of us are used to preparing for flu and cold season, hoping it won’t be bad this year, or maybe we’ll dodge it. But hope without a plan is just a wish. Make a plan, and follow through with it. If you haven’t already gotten a flu shot, go get one. Visit https://vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine to find the location closest to you. Doing this and following all the COVID-19 prevention guidance will protect you and the people around you from both the flu and COVID-19.
We have to approach things differently this year, though. To help, the Health District published a new blog this week: http://www.snohd.org/Blog.aspx?IID=47