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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 17, 2021
CONTACT:Heather Thomas, email@example.com
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. – It’s heartening to see students, teachers and staff heading back into the classroom. Snohomish County’s public and private schools have been working hard to prepare facilities to welcome people back to campus. Students, staff, and families have also been preparing to return with masks, hand sanitizer and extra distance added to their supply lists.
However, COVID-19 transmission remains high in Snohomish County and around our region right now. That is leading to an increasing number of positive cases being identified in students and staff. Each confirmed case results in anywhere from a handful to over 100 close contacts identified, many of whom need to quarantine for 14 days.
A new Snohomish Health District report shows the rapid increase over the last month in cases associated with childcare facilities, K-12 schools, higher education, and youth sports and camps. For the two-week period ending September 16, there were nearly five times as many investigations in K-12 settings (202) than the previous period ending September 2 (42 investigations). There were at 367 confirmed and probable cases and more than 2,100 close contacts involving childcares, schools, and youth sports during that timeframe.
Unlike last year where schools went to a remote environment, our focus is on ensuring mitigation measures are in effect so we can keep students learning the classroom.
“When cases occur among students or staff, and they will, we work with the schools to optimize number of individuals being quarantined and try to prevent transmission in the school,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer for the Snohomish Health District. “From time to time there may be a classroom or two in a school that may need to be temporarily closed depending on the number of cases, but those episode won’t necessarily call for any change in school-wide, district-wide or county-wide operations. We need students, families and teachers to work with us to get cases down and keep the impacts small.”
The Health District has prepared a variety of resources and important reminders, including a Back to School COVID-19 Tool Kit for students and families. Materials are available at www.snohd.org/schools, and they are in alignment with updated recommendations released by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) this week.
Contact tracers at the Health District are seeing many cases that attended school, sports events, work, or gatherings while symptomatic. Some had fevers or a cough, while others thought they were just fighting allergies.
“If you or your student aren’t well, please stay home from work or school and seek testing promptly,” added Dr. Spitters. “That is one of the most critical reminders right now for our childcare and school communities right now. In addition to getting vaccinated and masking up, of course.”
Another topic that the Health District contact tracers receive frequent questions about is surrounding quarantine periods. Close contacts who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine for 14 days. They should ideally get tested right away and again 5-7 days after last exposure. If getting two tests done is not feasible, then do one 5-7 days after exposure.
The COVID-19 virus can take up to 14 days to incubate or replicate enough in the body to show up on a test. There are some individuals who test negative on 3-4 days after exposure, only to develop symptoms or test positive a few days later.
“Given the high level of transmission happening right now, we are staying with the full 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated individuals, even if test results are negative,” said Dr. Spitters. “As a reminder, COVID-19 isolation and quarantine directives given to students by schools or by the Health District supersede healthcare providers’ statements about the timing of return-to-school.”
If a fully vaccinated student or staff member is notified that they are a close contact, they do not need to quarantine as long as they remain well and symptom-free. They should seek testing 3-5 days after last exposure. If they develop COVID symptoms, they should report that to the school, remain home, and seek testing as soon as possible.
One of the best ways to minimize impact of COVID transmission and quarantines on their health, academic and extracurricular activities is for students 12 and up to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Trials are underway on vaccines for younger children. Until vaccines are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those 11 years of age and younger, it’s important that youth, families, and staff ensure that all public health prevention measures are followed consistently. This means making sure that other eligible members of the family and household are vaccinated, masking up when out of the home, deferring unnecessary social gatherings, keeping a distance from people you don’t live with, maintaining good ventilation in indoor spaces, and washing hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is providing behavioral health tips and resources for navigating the emotional responses that children, teens, and adults may experience during this exciting and stressful time.
The COVID-19 Back-to-Classroom THINK Toolbox is a resource to help with adjusting to the return of in-person school and learning. THINK, which stands for Teaching with Healthcare Informed Neurological strategies for Kids, is a toolbox with information to help school-age children and teens deal with the emotional impacts of COVID-19, and tips on how to build and maintain resilience and practice self-care during a disaster.
“Children and teens are uniquely affected by the pandemic,” says Dr. Kira Mauseth, co-lead for the behavioral health strike team at DOH. “Children and youth process information differently than adults. They need different structures in place to support them through disasters and large transitions, such as promoting recovery in the classroom, and return to back-to-classroom education. The THINK Toolbox was developed to address these areas and some of the trauma and stress that we’ve all experienced as a result of the pandemic."
Increased anxiety, acting out, and behavioral regression at home or at school are some of the behavioral health responses that parents, caregivers and teachers are likely to see or encounter in students this fall. Also be aware of "red flag behaviors" such as suicidal thinking or expression (talking about it), violence, and aggression – these behaviors will require more or additional professional support. For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they are twice as likely to experience more intense and more frequent behavior problems during the pandemic.
As schools are now open for in-person learning, ‘back to classroom’ education and recovery for students is also underway. When promoting recovery in the classroom, it is important to remember that some students come from groups that have been more severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With this in mind, encouraging and building resilience for students is key! Activities that facilitate cooperation and communication, and helping children and youth develop self-efficacy (their belief in their ability to achieve a goal) are very important aspects for resilience in the classroom. Activities that also provide structure, consistency, and the opportunity to contribute should also be strongly emphasized.
Teachers, coaches, school staff, mentors, parents, and caregivers are also at risk for additional anxiety right now. For these groups, practicing self-care in the ways that specifically work for them, is the best medicine. More than ever, patience and compassion are required.
The Snohomish Health District has updated several maps and reports this week. They include the following:
The monthly epidemiology report that provides detailed case information through August 31 will be published early next week online at www.snohd.org/547/Reports.
The testing schedule for the week of September 17 is as follows:
Appointments for testing at the District’s locations are required, and registration is available at www.snohd.org/testing. Those without internet access or needing language assistance can reach the Health District’s call center at 425.339.5278 to schedule a testing appointment. The call center is 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.