New report details plan for partially reopening Washington classrooms if COVID-19 cases decrease

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SEATTLE, Wash. — A new report from the Washington State Department of Health and Institute of Disease Modeling studies how schools could safely reopen for in-person learning and when it is safe to do so.

The report analyzed the trade off between minimizing the spread of COVID-19 and negative consequences of keeping schools closed for a long period. It looked at seven reopening strategies and weighed them against three community-spread scenarios: 20, 50, or 110 cases per 100,000 individuals over two weeks.

The report concluded that if school resumed completely as normal with high rates of the virus still within the community, between 9.5 and 24.6 percent of teaching and non-teaching staff and between 6.4 and 17.2 percent of students would be infected with COVID-19 in the first three months of school. It also concluded that the COVID-19 infection rate in the population prior to school reopening has more influence on the infection rate within schools than the specific reopening strategy.

However, results of the study showed that schools could be reopened without triggering exponential growth if safety protocols were implemented and community transmission was reduced by the start of the school year, with an Re below one.

The report recommended bringing back elementary school students first – either full-time or on an alternating schedule – and keeping other grades remote for a time.

“There are some hopeful signs in our state; new cases of COVID-19 have plateaued and appear to be slowly decreasing,” said Lacy Feherenbach, deputy secretary for COVID-19 response for the Washington State Department of Health. “This report shows us that we can get our kids back in school and our health guidance and decision-making tools outline a pathway to in-person learning for all students in Washington.”

To read the full report, click here.