EVERETT — The county health department is asking schools to freeze their reopening plans amid rising COVID-19 infections.
Over the two-week period ending Saturday, the Snohomish Health District recorded a rate of 72 new cases per 100,000 residents. The rate nearly knocks Snohomish County out of state parameters for holding in-person classes for elementary and special education students. The recommended range is 25 to 75 COVID cases per 100,000 residents.
A month ago, Snohomish County’s infection rate for a two-week period was 42 COVID cases per 100,000 people. That is the lowest it has been since June. The infection rate has been steadily rising since mid-September.
“The majority of our new cases are the result of too many people in close spaces,” Shawn Frederick, an administrator with the health district, told reporters Tuesday. “COVID is still very much circulating.”
So wear a mask, keep your distance from others and maintain a small social circle, Frederick said.
On Monday, the health district told school leaders they should stop welcoming students back to campus until the number of new cases decreases for at least three weeks.
“You don’t need to move backward if you’ve started to bring special needs students and K-3 grades back, but you should not bring in any additional students at this time,” an email to school leaders said.
Across the county, several districts have brought some students back to the classroom with a hybrid schedule in phases.
The Stanwood School District began its school year Sept. 10, with kindergartners in classrooms at each of the district’s five elementary schools. Students in first through third grades returned Oct. 5.
In Sultan, kindergarten classes started in late September, with first- and second-graders arriving at those schools Oct. 5. The district still plans to bring third-graders back to classrooms on Monday, Superintendent Dan Chaplik said.
The Granite Falls School District previously planned to bring back English Language Learners and special needs students — about 200 children — next week. Now, that will have to wait.
“It’s very disappointing and frustrating,” district spokesperson Melanie Freeman said. “We were really looking forward to getting at least some of our students back.”
In Arlington, kindergartners and first-graders started in-person classes on Monday. Plans to bring more students back have been halted, district spokesperson Gary Sabol said.
Administrators in Lake Stevens plan to bring back kindergarteners, as well as first- and second-graders, in early November.
The district’s school board was set to discuss pausing their plan during a meeting Wednesday night.
On Monday, special needs students returned for in-person instruction.
Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top health officer, is scheduled to give districts an update next Tuesday.
The third wave of infections is mostly driven by young people, especially those ages 20 to 29, according to the health district’s weekly report.
Other COVID metrics, including the percentage of tests coming back positive, hospitalizations and the number of people getting the virus from a close contact are slowly rising.
Colder temperatures are keeping people indoors, where the virus can spread more easily. In addition to wearing a mask and keeping distance from others, avoid large, indoor gatherings, local leaders say.
And if you do test positive for COVID, answer your phone when contact tracers from the health district call.
For months, one in five people who contract the virus have ignored tracing calls, which gather information that can help health professionals stop the spread of COVID.
The health district, meanwhile, is monitoring an outbreak at the Tulalip Boys and Girls Club. So far, eight people have tested positive
“Out of privacy for those involved, we will not be sharing further details,” Frederick said.
The club closed Oct. 6 and 7 for cleaning, according to a Facebook post.
Anyone concerned about exposure to the virus from the Boys and Girls Club should seek testing, Frederick said.
There were five other virus outbreaks documented in the health district’s report, totaling 20 cases. An IT consultant was linked to seven infections, and a restaurant was involved with six.
More information on each outbreak will be available next week, Frederick said.
Herald writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.