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‘Fairly low’ COVID-19 transmission reported in Washington schools last fall

A Washington state report found public and private K-12 schools had 84 COVID-19 outbreaks last fall. Most of the outbreaks involved two or three cases.

SEATTLE — There has been “fairly low” transmission of COVID-19 in Washington schools since August, according to a report from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).

The report, which was released Thursday, found K-12 schools in 13 counties reported 84 coronavirus outbreaks from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020. There were 305 COVID-19 cases associated with the outbreaks, which were defined by two or more cases within two weeks of each other. Sixty-four percent of those outbreaks involved just two or three cases.

Dr. Laura Newman, COVID-19 outbreak response senior epidemiologist, said the report offered “encouraging news.”

“We are seeing fairly low levels of COVID-19 transmission within school settings so far,” Newman said in a statement. “The majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools involve three or fewer cases, and school administrators, teachers, and staff are doing a good job of implementing preventative measures that limit the spread of COVID-19.”

RELATED: Oak Harbor is biggest western Washington school district to resume in-person learning

Spokane County had the highest number of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, recording 33 outbreaks and 151 cases. Snohomish County was second with 12 outbreaks and 53 cases.

When the outbreaks happened, 19 schools were using a hybrid model with a mix of remote and in-person learning, and 10 were teaching fully in-person, according to the report. Another 10 were fully remote with exceptions for certain students.

The DOH report came one day before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled guidance for reopening schools. The CDC said there is strong evidence in-person learning can be done safely and emphasized measures like hand washing, disinfection, diagnostic testing and contact tracing. The CDC also said vaccination of teachers is important but not a prerequisite for reopening schools.

However, the Washington Education Association, the union that represents teachers, has said that if Washington wants to prioritize in-person learning, the state also needs to prioritize vaccinating teachers.

An exclusive KING 5 News poll suggests it’s a mixed bag on whether Washingtonians want schools to reopen. About a quarter of respondents thought all schools should have in-person classes, and another quarter thought schools should educate remotely. And 43% of respondents thought school reopenings should depend on local factors.