Labor Day precautions needed to prevent COVID-19 spike in schools, health officer warns

Posted 9/3/20

Jefferson County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke will meet this week with local school district superintendents to go over plans for reopening schools.

Locke, during his weekly COVID-19 update …

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Labor Day precautions needed to prevent COVID-19 spike in schools, health officer warns

Posted

Jefferson County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke will meet this week with local school district superintendents to go over plans for reopening schools.

Locke, during his weekly COVID-19 update with Jefferson County commissioners Monday, noted he has been working very closely with school officials in the county on their plans to restart classes this fall.

“I’m certainly impressed with how well prepared they are,” Locke said.

Most schools — those in the Port Townsend, Chimacum and Quilcene districts — will restart next week, on the Wednesday following the Labor Day holiday. Brinnon starts Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Local districts are offering a full range of options for returning students, based on what parents want: four days a week of in-person learning plus a remote learning day; a hybrid model of two days in school, three days of remote learning; and fully remote/online learning. Students at Port Townsend High School will attend classes online, while Quilcene and Chimacum high school students have the option of some in-person classes. Also, in Quilcene, elementary and middle school students will be attending in-person classes.

Quilcene, for the week of Sept. 8, however, will conduct all learning online, according to the district.

Locke said the success or failure of containing the spread of COVID-19 in local schools will be mostly determined by what happens when students are not actually at school.

Students spend most of their time outside the classroom — at home or in activities away from school — Locke noted.

And how people protect themselves during the Labor Day  weekend will have a significant impact, he said.

“We are concerned about the upcoming holiday weekend,” Locke told county commissioners earlier this week.

“Fourth of July was a disaster,” he said, recalling that large gatherings during the Independence Day holiday created the spike in COVID-19 infections across the state in the weeks that followed July 4.

“People let down their guard,” Locke said, and ignored masking guidelines and other precautions.

“We really don’t want to see a repeat of that,” he stressed. “This is not the holiday to have big gatherings. It’s the holiday to stick very strictly to the limits.”

That includes having gatherings with family members only, and at a maximum, with five people from outside the household, while still adhering to masking, social distancing, and hand-washing hygiene precautions.

“That’s how we will get through without triggering local outbreak activity and having it impact schools,” Locke said.

“There’s a lot at stake,” he added.

More than half of the COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County have been traced to residents of Port Townsend, according to county health officials.

A total of 36 of the 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county have been linked to Port Townsend residents.

Officials had previously been reluctant to share details of where the people live who have been infected with the disease.

Locke told commissioners last week that he had received multiple requests from people who wanted to know the general geographic location of those who had tested positive for the disease.

But rules dictating medical privacy have previously prevented the county from sharing that information, Locke said.

Other counties have been providing the geographic location of COVID-19 cases. 

Things were changing for Jefferson County, however, given the rising number of total infections, Locke added.

“The more cases you have, the less likely an individual is to be identified,” Locke told commissioners during their Aug. 17 coronavirus update.

In addition to the 36 cases in Port Townsend, there have been 27 COVID-19 cases in the mid-county region, with seven other cases in south Jefferson County (Quilcene, Brinnon and West Jefferson).

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