Back to school often comes with feelings of nervousness and anticipation. However, families may be feeling even more nervous and worried this year as the Delta variant of COVID-19 is circulating. Delta spreads more easily, so the risk of getting the infection is higher.
This requires more attention to precautions from our schools, from families who have already worked so hard to protect their children and from the wider community.
We know that the benefits of learning in person are enormous, especially for students who have felt strongly the isolation. School is the key to the healthy development of children and adolescents. To reduce Delta’s risk as much as possible, we need to use a combination of strategies consistently and with a “layered” approach – at school, at home and in the community.
Students, staff and families can help protect each other by getting vaccinations for all who are eligible. In and out of school, we should wear well made clothes and tight-fitting masks and keep your physical distance as much as possible. We can take the test and stay home when we have symptoms (even mild) or are exposed to COVID-19. And we need to improve indoor ventilation in K-12 schools and daycare centers, remembering that outdoor activities are less risky than indoor ones.
Outside of school, our entire community can support families with school-age children. We should all wear masks when we are in public places indoors. We should get vaccinated if we are eligible. And if we all limit our high-risk activities during the current Delta wave, it will help protect our children.
While these steps can make a difference and help slow the spread of COVID-19, there are likely to be disruptions to normal routines. It is a particularly busy time for families and health professionals.
At this stage of the pandemic, parents and healthcare professionals continue to assess the risks to their children, especially unvaccinated children. Weighing risks every day, with limited options, has an emotional impact on families and caregivers. Thankfully, even in the current wave of new COVID-19 cases across multiple age groups, the hospitalization rate among people 17 years of age and younger remains very low. There is no significant change from hospitalization rates for this age group in the previous 12 months.
Everyone who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine can do their part to keep K-12 schools and day care centers safe for children! Vaccination is the most important way to reduce risk for teachers, staff, eligible students and families. K-12, childcare and higher education staff in Washington state are required by the state be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by October 18.
Currently, COVID-19 vaccination is available for all 12 years and older. We hope that a vaccine will be available for children aged 5 to 11 by the end of the year and for younger children soon after.
This leaves a temporal gap. School begins before younger children are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and before the deadline for full staff vaccination. This time gap understandably affects families. It takes an emotional toll on families who constantly weigh risks to protect their children.
We may not yet have a COVID vaccine to protect younger children, but we do have vaccines to protect them from diseases like measles and whooping cough. All children should be updated on routine vaccinations before the first day of school. Students who lack vaccinations may not be allowed to participate in classes, sports or other activities until they get all routine vaccinations necessary for the entrance to the school.
Students can obtain the vaccines required for free from their doctor or at events e clinics close to them. Many King County schools also have school health centers that can serve as an important resource for parents seeking advice on COVID-19. These health centers offer comprehensive primary care and behavioral health services, including vaccinations, mental health support, and sports physical activity.
When your children are eligible, please have them vaccinated. It is the most effective way to reduce the risk.
Stratified strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19
In addition to vaccination, the state has developed requirements and guidance for schools and kindergartens to minimize the risk of disease. Strategy requires creating multiple layers security – a multi-layered approach.
All staff and students aged 5 and over are required to wear a mask and stay like as far apart as possible, especially during activities such as lunchtime and other high-risk activities. When optimal spacing is not possible, other levels of protection are essential, such as improve internal ventilation, moving some activities outdoors, And screening test.
Students must stay home if anyone in their family is positive or was diagnosed with COVID-19. And families should make sure that students who have symptoms or who test positive stay home. thesis example scenarios and the isolation / quarantine page it can help to further explain how long to stay at home.
Families can help from making sure the masks fit perfectly and are cleaned or replaced regularly. When wearing a mask, you protect others besides yourself, especially if you are not vaccinated and / or are close to others who are not vaccinated. An added benefit of universal masking is the protection of students and staff against other respiratory diseases that would take time away from school.
The schools are required by the state of Washington to have consulted a professional engineer or HVAC specialist to determine the best way to maximize ventilation and air filtration in each area of the school in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Portable High Efficiency Air Filters (HEPA) can complement ventilation. These are more critical in rooms with worse ventilation or in areas reserved for people with symptoms who are being evaluated for COVID-19 at school.
Schools are also required to provide access to COVID-19 test when students have been exposed or show symptoms. Unvaccinated students and staff who participate in indoor sports are required to regularly screen (test for COVID-19). Additionally, schools are encouraged to provide screening tests for other students, especially if students participate in high-risk activities such as singing and some music. These screening tests help identify infected students early and reduce the risk of outbreaks.
All of these layers, taken together, can dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Prevent and contain epidemics
Public Health – Seattle and King County support school districts in their COVID-19 safety plans. When outbreaks occur, public health works closely with schools to contain cases, investigate cases, advise those who have been exposed, and make recommendations to districts on how to prevent or contain the outbreak. In light of back to school and the more contagious Delta variant, public health is prioritizing additional resources to support schools in their efforts to prevent and contain outbreaks.
When an outbreak occurs, the final decision on whether to close a school rests with the school districts themselves. School administrators consider several factors each time a case arises, including:
- How many people were exhibited?
- Were those exhibited wearing masks?
- If the vaccine is suitable, have the exposed persons been vaccinated?
- When and where did these exposures occur?
- How many people need to isolate or quarantine?
- Do lessons, practices or other school activities need to be canceled to contain spread?
The County of the King school response toolkit it is an important resource for schools. Provides guidance on how to respond quickly and effectively when COVID-19 cases occur, including notification templates to support school awareness of families and students.
Communication between school districts and public health can help prevent the rapid spread of a single case across an entire school. The goal is to make prudent safety decisions without taking unnecessarily restrictive measures.
Link to other questions and answers
Change is constant in this COVID-19 world. As the situation evolves, public health will continue to provide information and answer additional questions related to children and schools on the following web pages:
Originally published Aug 26, 2021