Health leaders: Virus cases keep dropping, putting Tri-City schools on track for hybrid learning in October

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — With coronavirus activity continuing to drop in Benton and Franklin counties, health leaders say schools should be able to safely reopen for hybrid learning in October.

The Benton-Franklin Health District on Monday said that schools in Benton County and North Franklin County should prepare to transition to some in-person learning around early October; the Pasco School District and all other schools in Franklin County were told to plan for some in-person classes as soon as Oct. 15.

On Wednesday, the Kennewick School District voted to enter hybrid learning model by Oct. 12, a decision supported by the health district’s current recommendation.

RELATED: Tri-City schools could start reopening within a couple weeks, health district says

In the past, Benton-Franklin Health Officer, Dr. Amy Person has said local disease activity should be below 75 cases per 100,000 people in each county over a 14-day period in order for schools to safely reopen. That’s according to guidelines from the state Department of Health.

At a news conference Thursday, Person told reporters that new information from the Institute of Disease Modeling indicates that if schools maintain strict adherence to mitigation procedures such as physical distancing, masking and staying home when sick, even at disease activity as high as 110 cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days, “reopening schools would not lead to significant increase in disease activity in our community.”

Through Sept. 5, Benton County had 119 cases per 100,000 residents and Franklin County had 204 cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days. However, Person said preliminary data is showing that Benton County is likely already below the 75 per 100,000 mark, and that it’s very possible Franklin County’s numbers to drop below 75 by mid-October.

Person stressed that even at the 75-case per 100,000 mark, vigilance will be key for preventing a spike in new cases.

She stressed that now-established practices such as wearing masks, physical distancing, contact tracing, staying home when sick and self-isolating will all play important roles in the near future.

Person acknowledged that there has been frustration among many people regarding the decision to reopen schools or not. She said the health district remains encouraged by the significant improvement both they and the community have made in slowing the spread of the disease.