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New numbers released on COVID outbreaks in Washington schools

Across Washington State, there was an average of nearly 37 outbreaks of COVID-19 per week during September in K-12 schools, according to a new report from the state Department of Health.

The report was released on Oct. 29 and outlines outbreaks and cases between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30 in both public and private schools. Schools across the state re-opened for in-person instruction this academic year after being shuttered in the spring of 2020 in response to the pandemic.

The report found there were 189 COVID outbreaks during the two months, with 42 occurring in August and 147 in September. The median size of an outbreak was five people and roughly 6% of all schools experienced an outbreak.

During last year’s October headcount, there were 1.078 million students in K-12 schools in the state, and 3,057 public and private schools.

The weeks with the highest number of outbreaks were those of Sept. 5 and 12th. Outbreaks dropped significantly over the following weeks.

The majority of outbreaks, 120, were among grade schools, 48 were in middle schools and 55 in high schools. In total, there were 1,285 cases associated with school outbreaks.

The number of cases also peaked during the week of Sept. 5, but remained high during the week of Sept. 12 before dropping off. The vast majority of cases were among those aged 19 or younger.

Deputy Secretary of Health Lacy Fehrenbach said in a press release that the relatively small size of outbreaks indicates that schools are working to respond to cases among students and staff.

The Department of Health revised their definition of what constitutes an outbreak upward during this school year, from two cases to three, bringing its definition in line with national standards from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

When broken down by county, Snohomish had the highest number of outbreaks and cases, followed by King County with its much greater population.

The median age for cases linked to school outbreaks was 12 years. And 42% of cases were among non-Hispanic white students and 51% were male.

Schools have been following health guidance from the Department of Health since students headed back to the classroom this year. So far, it appears schools have been largely successful in staving off a ‘whack-a-mole’ scenario where students would be constantly bouncing between home and online learning and in-person instruction as outbreaks forced them to quarantine.

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