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Collaborative planning helps set stage for reopening schools.

Younger learners could be back in school soon.

Safe Start metrics headed in a good direction.

When we decided schools needed to begin the year with remote learning, Pierce County’s COVID-19 community transmission activity did not permit a safe return to school.

Today, our case numbers and positivity rates are declining, and we are close to meeting the 4 metrics of the state’s decision tree that allow phasing in of in-person learning.

Pierce County is still in the high category of the school decision tree (a case rate of more than 75 per 100,000 over a 14-day period), but we are on track to fall below that very soon. 

When we enter the moderate range (25-75 cases per 100,000), expanding in-person learning to elementary students is permissible. The state requires us to report our case rate with a 6-day lag to ensure accuracy. This 6-day data lag has been a required element of reporting Safe Start metrics for movement into phases and other reopening requirements.

Other metrics also are trending positively. The test positivity rate in the county dropped from above 7% in mid-July to under 5% by mid-August. The 14-day average of new cases daily dropped from close to 100 at the beginning of August to just under 50 at the end of the month. And the percentage of hospital beds occupied daily by COVID-19 patients is close to 4% after being more than 6% in early August.

You can track our current Safe Start metrics as they apply to reopening schools at tpchd.org/covidinfoschools.

Working with partners is essential to reopening.

School districts and private schools are key partners to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. The Health Department  works directly with schools on everything from School Health Reports to tobacco prevention efforts. 

Our partnership relies on strong communications, especially during the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our community. Throughout August, we held multiple calls with public and private school leaders. 

A young student reads his book in a library

Last week, we discussed several issues on when to reopen and how to operate safely once we stabilize in the moderate category of the decision tree. Our goal remains to reopen schools safely and to continue to drive disease rates down. We reached consensus on:

  • Effective immediately, schools will be permitted to offer in-person learning in small groups (five students and two adults) to younger learners and those with the highest needs.
  • Younger learners are those in grades K-5.

We meet with school leaders again on Sept. 3 to continue the discussion of gradual reopening. We will consider:

  • How should our community transition to safe in-person learning?
  • How long will the waiting period be between data reports and bringing back more students? 

We have resources and toolkits for school leaders to use as they make decisions and communicate reopening plans.

The next couple of weeks will be crucial in reopening Pierce County schools. We will join with our partners to plan time frames and show flexibility in our partnership. 

What can I do to help my child’s school reopen? 

  • Help everyone in your family stay the course with healthy habits. Be persistent even as disease rates come down. 
    • Stay close to home.
    • Wear a mask when you leave home.
    • Limit your interactions to a small circle of friends and family.
    • Keep gatherings small, and outside if possible where fresh air circulates.
    • Stay 6 feet apart from others. Wear a mask when you cannot maintain 6 feet of space.
    • Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing symptoms, are Black, Latinx, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Island, American Indian, Alaska Native—or have participated in any gatherings—social, civic, business, political, athletic or otherwise.
    • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation.
  • Especially as we head into the Labor Day holiday weekend, please plan small. We have our recent history of a huge spike after the July 4th holiday. A weekend of fun is not worth rising case counts, isolation or quarantine for many, more deaths, more hospitalizations—and a further delay of in-person learning for our kids.
  • Even if you and your family feel healthy, you may unwittingly contribute to disease spread if you are gathering with people from outside of your household, moving about in public places without wearing face coverings, and not remaining vigilant about hand and respiratory hygiene. You can have and spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not show symptoms.

With your help, we will make good progress to safely re-open schools for in-person learning. Learn more at tpchd.org/covidinfoschools.