COVID Bulletin: How the virus has spread in WA schools this year

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More than 1,500 COVID-19 outbreaks have been linked to K-12 schools in Washington in the 2021-22 academic year, according to a state Department of Health report on how the virus is spreading. is moved to campuses.

Those outbreaks, recorded between August 1 and April 30, were associated with nearly 11,000 coronavirus cases in the state. An outbreak is defined as three linked cases or 10% of students, teachers, or staff within a group such as a classroom or school-sponsored extracurricular activity.

About 90% of COVID cases linked to school outbreaks involved students, with the majority aged 13 and under. The median age was 14 years old.

Vaccination rates for these age groups are the lowest. Although children between the ages of 5 and 11 became eligible for the vaccine in October, less than a third (32%) were fully vaccinated as of Saturday, according to DOH data. For the 12-15 age group, 54% were fully vaccinated.

Since elementary students are more likely to stay with their class throughout the day, the DOH said clusters are easier to identify without a thorough investigation.

This becomes more difficult for middle and high schools, as students move between classes and access a wider range of activities, making it more difficult to confirm links.

Older students, the DOH said, may also have more ability to consistently wear well-fitting masks.

Visual reporting of local news and trends is partially funded by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all of its coverage.

Where the school outbreaks happened

Although schools in King County have had the most outbreaks in Washington, the size of the outbreaks in Schools in Snohomish County were the largest.

A whopping 7,116 cases were linked to Snohomish schools, affecting 71% of county schools.

King, Snohomish and Grays Harbor counties reported the highest number of public school closures.

The majority of outbreaks have been reported in public schools — accounting for nearly 30% of all public schools in Washington.

During the school year, this resulted in the closure of 77 reported school buildings and a temporary return to remote learning, according to data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Although private schools have reported fewer COVID outbreaks, 20% of the state has been affected. It is unclear how many of these have resulted in temporary school closures, as private schools are not required to report this to OSPI.

The DOH said the partnership between public schools and local health authorities allows for more accurate reporting of outbreaks. There is not enough data to determine with certainty whether public schools have been more affected than private schools.

Where COVID has spread on campus

The classroom was the main place of transmission in schools. Less than 1% of outbreaks were linked to cafeterias, where students were more likely to be unmasked.

But pinpointing the precise setting of the transmission is difficult, the DOH said, especially in places with a frequent flow of people, such as a dining room or hallway.

“Children and young people who share classrooms can also share lunch. Additionally, the number of outbreaks occurring in K-12 schools makes it difficult to investigate each outbreak in detail,” the DOH said.

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