PIERCE COUNTY, WA — Depending on how the county handles the coronavirus pandemic over the next two weeks, Pierce County schools may be forced to completely close all their classrooms once again near the end of October, according to the latest update from the Tacoma – Pierce County Health Department.
Recently the number of daily coronavirus infections in Pierce County has been on the rise, and Wednesday, the county passed a worrying threshold: reporting 75.6 new coronavirus infections per every 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. That’s just over the cutoff rate of 75 cases, pushing Pierce County from a “moderate risk” county to a “high risk” county under state guidance. That guidance strongly recommends that all high risk counties hold classes completely remotely, which Pierce County’s top health official says they will do if high case counts persist.
“You asked to avoid rapid back-and-forth changes (“yo-yoing”) and for adequate notice to plan when the disease activity shifts between levels,” writes Pierce County Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen. “We are committed to providing a two-week observation period. It begins today, Oct. 9.”
Chen says the county will be closely monitoring case counts, and if they remain high the health department will be asking schools to cancel almost all in-person activities. Chen says, based on past surges, that probably will happen.
“Now that we have crossed into the high level in the state decision tree, we will watch to see if the rate is going to stay in that range for a sustained period,” writes Chen. “Our analysis shows it likely will.”
If high coronavirus case counts persist, schools will be asked to return to remote learning on October 26.
Some districts have already postponed plans to return students to classrooms, including Puyallup, and Clover Park school districts, so this announcement may only postpone their plans further. Other districts have tried to return younger students to classrooms, and will likely need to send those children back home once again.
Exceptions will be made for high need students, who will still be able to continue in-person learning in small groups of five or fewer kids and two staff members.
Most sporting events would also be cancelled, as only groups of six or fewer student athletes can train together in a high risk county.
Until the two-week observation period is up, however, Chen is advising everyone to continue following safety guidelines, and hopefully get daily case counts back to a more manageable level.
“Please share the message to mask up, stay 6 feet apart, and stay home if you are not feeling well,” writes Chen. “It’s also a good time to get your flu shot.”