Submitted by Lewis County Public Health & Social Services
In a letter to school superintendents, Lewis County Health Officer Rachel Wood, M.D., MPH, recommends schools can begin opening for in-person instruction, with phased implementation dates based on the grade levels being opened.
Her letter recommends that schools considering in-person instruction follow an A/B or an am/pm model, with staggered start dates for grades, especially for larger schools. Students should all maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Class sizes should be as small as the school can accommodate to minimize the number of students needing to be quarantined in the event of an exposure in the class.
She recommends elementary schools open following this guidance on October 19, middle schools November 16, and high schools December 14.
“Elementary-age students are impacted the most by not being in classrooms,” Wood said. “Opening schools in phases like this gets the young kids in classrooms first while allowing the districts time to iron out any wrinkles before opening up classrooms for the next grade levels.”
The letter also says schools should immediately consider priorities in regards to resuming sports, academic programs, and extra-curricular activities, reviewing current WIAA and Washington State recommendations prior to making decisions.
Lewis County Public Health & Social Services Director J.P. Anderson said, “Developing a countywide plan to safely reopen schools has been an incredible challenge. It would not have been possible without the dedicated collaboration between our local superintendents, pediatricians, parents, and teachers.” Anderson said there are still many challenges to overcome. “But if any community can pull together and make it work, it’s Lewis County,” he said.
Lewis County still does not meet many of the public health benchmarks for stopping the spread of COVID-19. However, Dr. Wood said she is encouraged by how many partners throughout the county are working to return children to school as safely as possible. She said that although COVID-19 still poses a danger, “We all now better understand the health consequences to our kids, their families, our school staff, and communities at large on either side of the open in-person/open remotely equation.”
A team from Infection Protection and Antimicrobial Consultants (IPAC) has been touring schools and providing recommendations to all schools wanting help in preparing for the return of students. They will also be providing ongoing support once children return, to troubleshoot and work closely with schools to help keep COVID out
While the individual school districts will determine whether they will provide in-person, hybrid, or remote learning, Dr. Wood said it is equally important that parents are given the choice to use which learning method works best for them and their families. She recommends they reference the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention school decision-making tool for parents available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/decision-tool.html.
Wood said that because COVID-19 remains an active presence in our county, interventions in place to protect public health will not change. New positive cases and outbreaks have the potential to close re-opened classrooms and schools, requiring districts to return to distance learning models.
“As Health Officer, I appeal to everyone in Lewis County, regardless of your own personal views on the coronavirus pandemic, to pull together,” she said. “Tolerate masking, endure social distancing, put up with the inconvenience for the benefit of our children’s futures.”