State Health Officials Seeing Low Levels of COVID-19 Transmission in Schools

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Health officials are seeing low levels of COVID-19 transmission within school settings, according to a Washington state Department of Health report released Thursday.

The report logged a total of 84 COVID-19 outbreaks that occurred among students or staff in K-12 schools across thirteen counties between Aug. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020.

An "outbreak" is defined as two or more positive COVID‐19 cases. The cases have a symptom onset within a 14‐day period of each other and do not share a household.

"There's encouraging news here," Laura Newman, COVID-19 outbreak response senior epidemiologist, said of the report in a press release. "We are seeing fairly low levels of COVID-19 transmission within school settings so far."

"The majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools involve three or fewer cases, and school administrators, teachers, and staff are doing a good job of implementing preventative measures that limit the spread of COVID-19," Newman said.

A total of 305 COVID-19 cases were associated with the 84 outbreaks, with an average of three COVID-19 cases per outbreak. The smallest outbreak involved two cases, and the largest involved 13, according to the report.

Of the 305 COVID-19 cases, half were students 18 years old or younger, with ages 5-14 making up 105 of the cases. Females made up 61 percent of the cases. Forty-two percent of COVID-19 cases were white, 9 percent were Hispanic and 45 percent were listed as unknown.

Spokane County had the highest number of outbreaks at 33, involving 151 COVID-19 cases, according to the report.

Comparatively, Skagit, Stevens, Thurston and Walla Walla counties recorded one outbreak each.

Washington's most populated county, King County, recorded seven outbreaks, involving 20 COVID-19 cases.

Of the 84 outbreaks, 58 were from public schools and 26 were from private schools. Ten of the outbreaks occurred at schools with in-person learning, 19 with hybrid learning and 15 with remote learning. With the remaining 40 outbreaks, schools either reported another learning modality or data were not available.

There were no reported deaths, and none of the people with COVID-19 cases were hospitalized overnight.

Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response, said the health department's goal is to help protect staff and students.

"We are sharing these data so that educators, families, local public health, and communities can see and learn from what's happening in schools with regards to COVID-19," Fehrenbach said.

The next COVID-19 report about outbreaks in schools will be released at the end of February and will include outbreak data from August 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021.

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