Everett Public Schools Superintendent Ian Saltzman (center) and Jackson High School principal Dave Peters (right) are interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Monday. (CNN)

Everett Public Schools Superintendent Ian Saltzman (center) and Jackson High School principal Dave Peters (right) are interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Monday. (CNN)

As parents worry, schools grapple with if and when to close

The number of coronavirus cases is on the rise, but there is money earmarked to fight it.

EVERETT —The email from Mukilteo School District was sent shortly before midnight that Mariner High School would be closed Monday due to the parent of a student testing positive for COVID-19.

Families in Marysville were notified Monday afternoon that two schools would be closed on Tuesday.

In Northshore School District, some students at Woodmoor Elementary across the Snohomish and King County line were sent home Wednesday after a parent tested positive for the virus. The school will be closed Thursday.

“The parent/volunteer was diagnosed with a different illness and hospitalized in late February. Medical professionals made a decision to test for the coronavirus yesterday,” the website said. “That parent/volunteer was at the Art Walk on Friday and volunteered in the classroom on Monday.”

The district’s Frank Love Elementary was closed for the third straight day, awaiting COVID-19 test results for a staff member. Northshore covers schools in portions of King and Snohomish counties.

“Each day, more of our families, students, and staff are being asked to self-quarantine, and we are finding it increasingly difficult to staff our schools and support services,” Northshore School District Superintendent Michelle Reid wrote in an email.

Brace yourself for more short notice closures as the number of coronavirus cases rise.

The spread of the virus sometimes means little turnaround time.

“We are taking it moment by moment,” said Jodi Runyon, a Marysville School District spokeswoman. “We can’t even say one day at a time.”

Some districts are updating the status each afternoon to say they will in fact be open the next day.

In Snohomish County, there are six confirmed cases, including one death, the parent whose infection prompted the closing of Mariner.

So far, it has been up to the school districts, not the health departments, to make the decision to close schools.

Four districts in Snohomish County have closed schools in the past week.

Uncertainty over the virus, including how it spreads, how long people are contagious and the effectiveness of decontamination efforts had some parents calling for schools to be closed until health officials get a better handle on the outbreak.

During a Snohomish Health District press conference Monday broadcast on Facebook Live, several people weighed in with concerns.

“We must do all we can to contain this while we still can,” Jennie Brashear wrote. “Close school, quarantine, do what must be done. Don’t let this get out of control, please.”

“I don’t understand why we are waiting for this to get worse instead of making a decision now,” Jesenia Rangel wrote. “Close the schools for a week or 2 why are we waiting for a tragedy to happen?”

School leaders say they are following guidance of health agencies.

Health agencies say they leave the decisions to close a campus to the schools.

More cases; more testing

Health officials confirmed the latest two cases in Snohomish County on Tuesday. A woman in her 60s is hospitalized with underlying health conditions. A man in his 40s who worked at Life Care in Kirkland is in home isolation.

Ten people tested were found not to have the virus. Results are pending on 28 other suspected cases.

Meanwhile, in Olympia Tuesday, the state House voted 96-0 to approve $100 million in emergency funding to cover costs of responding to the crisis incurred by state agencies and local health districts. House Bill 2965 will go to the Senate for its expected approval and then Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

The money would come from the state’s Budget Stabilization Account, better known as the Rainy Day fund.

A Snohomish Health District official said Monday the agency so far has spent about $125,000 responding to the outbreak and anticipated spending as much as $700,000 over six months.

On Wednesday morning, challenges faced by public schools in dealing with COVID-19 will be explored in a work session in the state House Education Committee. The 8 a.m. meeting will be streamed online on TVW.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal is expected to participate. Earlier this week, Reykdal told reporters that decisions on canceling classes have, for now, been made district by district. Local departments of health are empowered to order the closure of schools, he said, but that has not occurred.

While the information is changing day to day, schools will remain open unless there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a student, staff member or close contact.

Both Mariner and Discovery Elementary reopened on Tuesday. The student whose parent’s infection prompted the closing of Mariner had visited Discovery. The student has shown no signs of infection but is on 14-day quarantine at home.

A multi-school choir concert scheduled at Mariner Tuesday was cancelled “due to low school attendance,” the website said.

Jackson reopens

Ordinarily Jackson High School Principal Dave Peters holds open the cafeteria door and gives high fives and fist bumps to students heading in and out of the lunchroom. He was there on Tuesday, but this time there was no contact — just air fives and air bumps.

It’s part of a necessary cultural change on campus to lessen the likelihood of transmitting the virus.

Students added elbow bumps to the mix.

The campus was closed Monday after news broke Friday of a Jackson student testing positive for the coronavirus.

Custodial staff worked through the weekend and into Monday to deep clean the campus. Surfaces gleamed Tuesday and the school smelled of disinfectant.

Peters addressed the coronavirus during daily announcements. School staff could sense the uncertainty among students early in the school day. In many classrooms, there were conversations about health concerns before lessons in math and social studies.

“It was just getting the elephant out of the room,” Peters said.

One of the frequently asked coronavirus questions the school and school district received in recent days was specific: Who is the student who tested positive? Federal health privacy law requires confidentiality.

Peters said he didn’t even know the identity of the student until Monday, and only after the student’s family was contacted by the Snohomish Health District. The family provided permission for Peters to contact them and he explained that the school would work with the student during quarantine.

The same holds true for four of the student’s friends who also are under quarantine after having close contact.

Attendance Tuesday was better than might have been expected. Typically, 11% of students are absent on a given day at Jackson. On Tuesday, 14.9% of the nearly 2,300 students were not in school.

Peters was encouraged and relieved by the end of the school day Tuesday. The day before he and school Superintendent Ian Saltzman were interviewed live on national TV by CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go today, but anything was easier than going on national TV right before the vice president,” he said.

Caution in Marysville

Marysville closed Grove Elementary and its early childhood learning center Tuesday after learning midday Monday that someone within the community who tested positive for the virus had been in close contact with people who have been on those campuses. That person was not a school district employee and doesn’t appear to have been on the campuses recently.

“We did it out of an abundance of caution,” Runyon said.

About 15% of students were absent from Marysville schools Tuesday, not including the two campuses that were closed. On most days, that rate 7 to 9%.

Absence rates are “higher than normal,” said Northshore School District Superintendent Michelle Reid. “It has steadily been growing over the last several days.”

Reid said “a number of parents who went to see a medical provider have been told that testing is not available or not necessary.”

The district’s Bothell High School was closed for two days after a family member of a worker became ill after international travel. The staffer was not ill. The school was closed until the person received a negative test result for coronavirus. Meantime, the campus underwent a deep cleaning.

Northshore closed all schools Tuesday to train staff on online learning options for transitioning from the classroom to the cloud if needed.

“We felt like we could not plan and prepare while teaching,” Reid said. “This is not business as usual.”

The school will provide computing devices and internet for families without. Reid said there have been about 400 requests.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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