Submitted by Lewis County Public Health & Social Services

Lewis County Public Health & Social Services (LCPHSS) Health Officer Dr. Rachel Wood is recommending that all public and private K-12 schools in Lewis County offer only distance learning to start this coming school year. In a letter to Lewis County school superintendents, Dr. Wood wrote, “As Lewis County Health Officer, pursuant to the authority granted by the legislature in RCW 70.05.070(3), in order to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 within my jurisdiction, at this time I strongly urge and recommend all K-12 schools to remain closed to in-person general instruction for the start of the 2020 school year.”

LCPHSS Director J.P. Anderson said, “After going through all the numbers with all 12 of the county school superintendents and considering all the options, Dr. Wood is providing the necessary guidance at the necessary time.”

In her letter, Dr. Wood stated that based on COVID-19 activity in the county and region, she did not feel it was safe to open schools to in-person learning in September. She noted that COVID-19 affects all ages in every geographic area of our county, and case numbers are rising with no flattening of the curve in sight. She noted that Lewis County currently meets none of the state’s benchmarks for controlling the disease, which include cases per 100,000 population and positive test rates.

Dr. Wood referenced a just-published study that concluded the shutdown of schools earlier this year had a significant impact in reducing illness and death. The study was conducted between March and May 2020 when the incidence of COVID-19 was much lower than now. “These results suggest to me that keeping schools closed to in-person learning makes even more sense now when the incidence of COVID-19 is much higher than in the spring,” she said.

This same study also concluded some of the reduction in disease and deaths was likely due to community members wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands, and following other measures that reduce community transmission.

“We all want our children to go back to school, as the benefits for students and families are obvious,” Dr. Wood said. “Our current situation emphasizes that if we want to prioritize children and allow them to safely return to school, our community must be more vigilant in slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

If school districts believe they must provide in-person instruction to meet the needs of students with disabilities, English language learners, migrant or homeless students, or state or federal requirements, Dr. Wood said there may be options for safely providing limited in-person instruction for cohorts of 5 or less. She asked superintendents considering any such plans to closely follow all guidelines developed by the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Department of Health.

Anderson said his department is committed to working closely with the school districts to review status monthly and suggest any possible changes to the Health Officer’s recommendations. “We will also be holding weekly meetings with districts to help problem-solve ongoing challenges students are facing, and develop plans for children to return to in-person instruction as quickly as it can be done safely,” he said.

“This is an unprecedented time,” Dr. Wood said, “and it is important for us to all work together to stop the spread of COVID-19. Keeping our students and educational and support staff healthy is essential to the health of our county.”

People can stay informed on the status of COVID-19 in Lewis County by following the LCPHSS COVID-19 web page at https://phsscovid19.lewiscountywa.gov/, @LCPHSS on Twitter, or www.facebook.com/lcphss.

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