Yakima Co. health officials recommend in-person learning to start this fall

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Once considered among the biggest COVID-19 hotspots on the West Coast, health officials say Yakima County is now on track to allow students to return to school for in-person learning this fall.

The Yakima Health District issued a new recommendations Friday regarding in-person learning for students in grades K-12 within the county.

For each recommendation, schools must take certain safety precautions that include cohorting students, performing daily health screenings, following masking requirements, enforcing handwashing and social distancing requirements, ensuring proper disinfection and consulting with the health district about any known or suspected COVID-19 cases in students or staff:

  • In-person learning for grades K-5 as early as Oct. 12 pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates.
  • Hybrid learning for grades 6-8 as early as Nov. 2 (minimum of three weeks from reopening of grades K-5) pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates.
  • Hybrid learning for grades 9-12 as early as Nov. 23 (minimum of three weeks from reopening of grades 6-8) pending ongoing stable case counts and hospitalization rates.

Remote learning options must be provided to families that do not wish for their child to return to school for in-person learning.

On Aug. 4, the health district strongly urged school officials to implement a distance learning plan for all students except those who were most educationally at-risk. At that time, Yakima County had almost 339 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period and approximately 30 hospitalizations.

These numbers put Yakima County at more than four times the recommended threshold of 75 cases per 100,000 residents for any type of in-person learning, per state Department of Health recommendations.

Yakima County’s rate over the past three weeks has since dropped to roughly 95-115 cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days, and hospitalization rates have also remained stable between 9-14 cases daily as of Sept. 24. Several communities within the county actually remain below the 75 cases per 100,000 residents benchmark for hybrid learning.

“The Washington State Department of Health guidelines recommend distance learning until COVID-19 disease activity is at a moderate level, defined as 25-75 cases/100,000 population over 14 days. However, these same guidelines recommend consideration of other local factors such as COVID-19 test positivity, hospital and ICU capacity, stability of case counts, and the ability of schools to implement mitigation strategies,” the health district said in a news release. “While current case counts place Yakima County in the category of higher (not highest) risk for transmission, many other factors, place Yakima County in moderate risk categories.”

“It is the Yakima Health District’s recommendation that the community capitalizes on the collective achievements we have made in reducing and stabilizing case counts and take this opportunity to take measured steps forward towards in-person education.”