Health district: Tri-Cities area schools should remain closed in the fall

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TRI-CITIES, Wash. — The Benton-Franklin Health District is advising local school districts to keep their campuses closed in the fall because of prevalent coronavirus activity in the Tri-Cities area.

Dr. Amy Person, health officer of the Benton-Franklin Health District, wrote a letter Tuesday to school superintendents in Benton and Franklin counties with her recommendation.

In the letter, Person said coronavirus activity in both counties is far too high for schools to reopen safely. She said Benton County is averaging 360 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period, and Franklin County is averaging more than 600. To put that in context, the state Department of Health was recommending roughly 25 cases per 100,000 residents during that timeframe for counties to move into Phase 2.

“BFHD understands the important role that schools play in quality education, social-emotional learning, addressing special needs, and providing assistance meeting basic needs. However, we also believe that protecting the health of our students and school staff should be a priority,” Person wrote. “At this time, I do not recommend schools reopen on September 1, 2020 for in-person instruction except for considerations for small group (<5) instruction to support educationally at-risk students.”

Person said the health district will continue working closely with local school districts in coming weeks and months, and recommendations may change based on case numbers and state guidance.

Read the full letter here.