Report shows King County schools may not reopen if uptick in virus cases

A new report said schools in King County may not reopen this fall if COVID-19 transmission rates continue to spike.

The Institute for Disease Modeling released the study on Wednesday with research help from the Washington State Department of Health and Public Health -Seattle & King County.

IDM's model uses data collected through mid June from King County. The model shows reopening schools without taking preventative measures may lead to a significant increase of COVID-19 in the population.

"We moved forward too quickly and too happily after our stay home order and we are seeing too much transmission," said King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin.

The study compares alternative strategies for schools reopening. This includes changes in the contact structure of schools where students are assigned to one small group for potentially the entire year.

The strategies also include mandatory face masks, implementing screenings and testing and contact tracing of students and staff.

Without those preventative measures against COVID-19 in place at schools, health officials said cases in King County could double in the first three months of the academic year.

Duchin said IDM's report provides a "sobering" glimpse of the changes needed in order to safely get students and staff back inside a classroom.

During a telebriefing about the study, Duchin said a "radical behavior change" is necessary in order to slow the increasing transmission rate.

"We’re heading in the wrong direction and everyone needs to understand that if we go ahead in the wrong direction, it will be extremely difficult to bring children back to school," said Duchin. "We are actively discussing what steps backwards might be necessary to help get that reduction in contact that would require to decrease transmission to a level that would not lead to further increase in growth in the epidemic."

IDM said the research can be applied to any community outside of King County.

Celva Boon is a parent with three children in Tacoma Public Schools. She said she is urging the public to take the state's safety precautions seriously because her childrens' education depends on it.

"Having kids that learn very differently. Two of my boys are extreme hands on learners and they really do also enjoy the social aspect of school. We're really concerned more about how to secure hybrid spots for my kids," said Boon.

IDM researchers said they are actively updating the study as they continue looking at the resurgences of cases in King County.