BREMERTON, Wash. - White House medical adviser and infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. is "out of the pandemic phase" on Tuesday. However, the effects of COVID-19 caused some schools in western Washington to mask up once again, or even return to remote learning.
Students at Bremerton High School will begin learning from home Thursday and Friday. Bremerton School District said the high school is experiencing a staff shortage, with several teachers calling out sick due to a "variety of illnesses, including COVID." Like other districts statewide, the challenge is there aren’t enough substitute teachers to fill the absences. This forces the school to learn from home for the rest of the week.
Kitsap Public Health District talks with school districts every week about COVID-19 guidance and safe practices. The department’s health officer, Dr. Gig Morrow, said five schools reported outbreaks across three districts this week. He said there has been an increase in cases across the county.
"Absolutely, cases are going up. We’re seeing that not only with respect to illnesses, but additionally, we’re seeing a drift up in terms hospitalizations, as well," said Morrow.
The school and district is following guidance from Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on temporary the shift to remote learning. When there is a health situation among groups of students, classrooms or entire schools, OSPI guidance says:
"It’s the school district's responsibility to continue providing students with access to their learning even while they are quarantined and/or learning remotely. The guidance specifies that the learning must be synchronous (scheduled, real-time instruction) at least 70% of the time. The other 30% of the time should be asynchronous (prepared learning without two-way communication)."
Kitsap Public Health District is also part of the conversation when helping all schools learn the safest practices to protect students and staff from outbreaks. Morrow applauded schools throughout the county for stepping up testing options from the start.
"Some of them have contracted with private companies to help provide testing on-site. Others are doing it themselves. We’ve got a ‘schools COVID response team’ that we’ve built up internally, so we are there in the field providing technical assistance," said Morrow. "We’ve worked very, very closely with our superintendents, school administrators, their COVID teams as they make the best decisions for their school communities."
The plan is for Bremerton High School to resume class in person on Monday, after the district reevaluates staffing levels over the weekend. In the meantime, Morrow said let this be a lesson for all that COVID-19 is not over yet.
"I think that there are absolutely good solid reasons for some healthy optimism, which needs to be tempered with a hefty dose of caution," said Morrow.
Renton School District announced Dimmit Middle School is reinstating its facemask requirements, after a slight increase in COVID-19 cases. OSPI said requiring face masks again is a local decision made between the school, district and local health officer.