A new back-to-school plan: State releases updated guidance around in-person learning

OLYMPIA –Today the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released updated metrics to help local leaders and school officials make decisions about in-person learning and the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in the school environment.

Changes to the metrics include revisions to the COVID-19 incidence rates to consider when making decisions about who to prioritize for in-person learning. We’ve also included further clarification that local leaders should consider test positivity and trends in cases and hospitalizations to inform decisions about in-person learning, in addition to what they’re already considering.

“The changes to our school metrics are based on emerging research and data gathered by state and national health education officials and the early experiences of schools in Washington state and the nation,” said Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach. “The changes recognize that with robust health and safety measures in place, transmission in the school setting appears to be limited.”

“Today we are taking a step forward in getting school children back in the classroom,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “The science has shown, and our school officials have proven that with diligent focus on health and safety measures, it is possible to bring children back to the classroom while also protecting our students, staff and community from further transmission of COVID-19.”

In addition to the updated metrics, DOH announced an increased focus on the health and safety measures that are required by law for in-person learning. Some of those measures include:

  • Protect staff and students at higher risk for severe COVID-19 while ensuring access to learning.

  • Group students (required in elementary, recommended for middle and high school students).

  • Practice physical distancing among students and staff.

  • Promote frequent hand washing or sanitizing.

  • Promote and ensure face covering use among students and staff.

  • Increased cleaning and disinfection.

  • Improve ventilation.

Testing and contact tracing are key capacities that need to be in place to rapidly respond when there are cases among the school population to curtail transmission. DOH is also releasing guidance on COVID-19 testing in the K-12 school populations. This guidance helps local school and health leaders decide on who, how, and when to test/screen K-12 students and staff.