High school students may return to some in-person classes next month, as Thurston County's Health Officer officially OK'd high schools to begin a "cautious, phased-in approach" to in-person learning on Friday.
In a letter to school superintendents, Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek wrote that transmission rates in Thurston County have dropped to 121.4 per 100,000 population, according to the Governor's Risk Assessment Dashboard.
The state Department of Health's metric for returning to in-person classes is having less than 200 cases per 100,000 people over a 14 day period, which Thurston County has met.
"I recommend schools take a cautious phased-in approach to in-person learning for high school students, after middle school students have returned," Abdelmalek wrote.
The announcement comes as elementary students in grades 3-5 are set to return to Olympia classrooms next week for hybrid learning, and sixth graders are set to return for hybrid learning on March 15. The hybrid approach pairs two days of in-person learning with three days spent online.
North Thurston Public Schools have set a similar timeline, with grades 3-4 returning on March 3 and fifth graders on March 10. Parents also have the option of continuing with 100 percent remote instruction.
It's not clear when high school students will return, and Abdelmalek acknowledged that each school district's situation is different.
Meanwhile, Thurston County reported 26 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the countywide total to 7,184.
Of those, 6,402 people are considered recovered or recovering, while 340 people have been hospitalized at some point during their illness, and 66 have died.
The percent of positive cases over the past week is now 4.1%
IN THE REGION
— Pierce County reported 167 new COVID-19 cases and four new deaths on Friday. The new data brings its totals to 36,186 cases and 464 deaths.
— Grays Harbor County reported 3,326 confirmed and probable cases and 45 deaths as of Friday.
— Lewis County Public Health & Social Services added eight new cases and eight deaths Thursday. In all, the county has reported 3,222 cases and 50 deaths.
— Mason County reported three new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing its total to 1,682 cases with 23 deaths.
— Pacific County has reported a total of 741 positive cases with 10 deaths as of Wednesday.
AROUND THE STATE, NATION AND WORLD
The state Department of Health has reported 337,653 cases and 4,942 deaths as of Friday.
In the U.S., more than 28.4 million cases have been reported as of Friday with more than 509,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Globally, more than 113 million cases have been reported and 2.5 million people have died as of Friday.