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What you need to know as you send your kids back to school.

It feels like the final school bell just released students for a well-deserved summer break. 

The 2020-2021 school year was tough. Students and staff shifted between distance learning and in-person instruction. They learned how to follow COVID-19 protocols. And they responded quickly to potential isolation and quarantine periods. 

Summer was a welcome sigh of relief. 

As we gear up to go back, you might wonder what it will look like this time around. 

Masks on.

You will see masks in classrooms. Schools are required to offer in-person instruction, so students will again be able to learn in the same space as their teachers and friends. Everyone must wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep campuses open.

Masks remain an important tool to keep us safe from infection. Students under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. 

With the Delta variant spreading rapidly, Gov. Jay Inslee expanded the state mask mandate to include all public spaces indoors regardless of vaccination status starting Monday, Aug 23. Our Director of Health, Anthony L-T Chen, also issued a countywide mask directive for everyone 5 and older to wear a face covering indoors in public spaces and outdoors where physical distancing isn’t possible.

These steps will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the public and help slow the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in many parts of the county.

Vax to relax.

Vaccination is one of the most important tools to protect students and staff. Everyone 12 and older is eligible. The vaccines are safe, effective and free for everyone. You don’t need insurance or ID. Getting vaccinated will also make it easier to keep everyone in school.

If you sit next to someone who’s later confirmed to have COVID-19 and are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to stay home for 14 days. This means less missed school and less missing out on fun. Find your dose at tpchd.org/vaxtothefuture

Gov. Inslee announced on Wednesday, Aug. 18, a vaccination requirement for K -12 educators, school staff, coaches, bus drivers, school volunteers and others working in school facilities. They have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. The requirement does not apply to students.

Test to protect.

Is your student not yet eligible for vaccine? What happens if they are a close contact of someone who’s infected?

Schools will have the chance to take part in a test-to-stay protocol. It allows close contacts to keep learning in person during the quarantine period if they agree to regular COVID-19 testing. This will not exempt them from quarantine outside of school or allow them to take part in extra-curricular activities. It will let them receive the benefits of in-person instruction.

Like we saw last school year, some testing remains mandatory. In most cases, anyone with COVID-like symptoms must receive a negative COVID-19 test before they return to school. 

Need help finding a test? You can pick up a free test at your local library or farmers market (for 16+) or visit a nearby testing center. Find your closest location at tpchd.org/gettested. Can’t leave the house? Request a free SCAN test kit for any age. It will be dropped off and picked up at your front door. 

Student athletes and coaches in basketball, water polo or wrestling will need two weekly tests. Students will be maskless during some of these activities and in close contact for others. Fully vaccinated students will not have to get tested. Many athletes used this testing regimen last year to help keep their team members safe.

Lessons learned.

The 2021-2022 school year will look a little different than last year and previous years. Many restrictions have eased but some remain to help keep all our kids safe.  

The pandemic is not over yet. If we apply what we know and what we’ve learned last year, we can make this next school year a success and a year to remember.

Learn more about COVID-19, and subscribe to the Your Reliable Source blog for the latest news.

A teenager gets a shot of COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma as her father looks on.