COVID weekly briefing: County releases latest numbers on school outbreaks, available vaccine doses

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, upper right, and Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters, bottom, speak during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Snow damage to COVID test sites, coronavirus data on school outbreaks and new guidelines on wearing masks are the key takeaways from Snohomish County’s latest COVID briefing Tuesday.

The snowstorm damaged tents and equipment at COVID test sites at Funko Field in Everett and the Lynnwood Food Bank, so they were unable to open Tuesday. The county expects them to be back up within a day or two. One vaccine drive-thru site closed Saturday; appointments were rescheduled. Dr. Chris Spitters, chief health officer, says no vaccine was wasted because of the snow. But, because of the holiday weekend, the county does not yet have new numbers on cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Vaccine sites are open, but for how long, the county does not know. This week, the county is only getting 5,000 shots for first doses, and just over 18,000 for second doses. The supplies depend on what the state receives. For those without access to a computer or with special needs, call the County’s COVID call center 425-339-5278 to make appointments.

A new supply notification system, developed by the state, should come online in about a week. That will allow the county to know several weeks ahead of time how much vaccine it will get, making scheduling more reliable. The state is also releasing data on distribution of shots by race and ethnicity, but Spitters says he does not yet have that information. County Executive Dave Somers says his staff has been working with communities of color for many weeks to find the best ways to reach out to them.

Snohomish County has just released new data on the number of COVID outbreaks in public and private schools. It shows 12 outbreaks from Aug. 1-Dec. 31, 2020. Those 12 outbreaks caused a total of 54 cases; an average of just over four per school.

An “outbreak” is defined as two or more confirmed cases in a single school setting; the onset of coronavirus within 14 days; that there is a link between those infected; and that they do share a household.

Countywide, 285 COVID cases were reported among staff/students in school settings in the final five months of last year. Those cases were reported in 201 public/private schools. The majority were just a single case that did not affect others at the school.

Gov. Jay Inslee has advocated for a phased reopening of in-class learning. Spitters told reporters the county continues to encourage schools to get kids back in class in a hybrid setting; two days in class, two remote learning. He says it is safe to start with the youngest and those students with special needs.

Twelve of the county’s 15 public school districts have done that or have set timelines to do that.  Edmonds is not one of them. Not yet. In January, Edmonds did bring back 150 students; among them the deaf and hard of hearing, visually impaired and additional special education programs. Last week, Edmonds restarted English Learner sessions for those learning English. Edmonds-Woodway, Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace high schools have been designated “hubs” for English learners of all ages. So far, only 25 students have attended.

Since January, the District and the Edmonds Education Association, representing 1,300 teachers, have negotiated to set working conditions for stage two learning, which could bring kndergarten, first and second grades back on a hybrid model. But there is no timeline set to do that.

It isn’t known what the specifics are or what any obstacles might be. In past labor talks, the district and the teachers union have discussed wages, teacher prep time, extra pay for extra duties and other issues. But, this time, the district and the union have not released any specifics. We are requesting more information from both.

In January, Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas wrote to parents:

“We are actively bargaining with the union. At this time, we do not know how long it will take to have the terms finalized between the district and the union to launch Stage 2. We will continue to share information with you as we can.”

The Centers for Disease Control has released new guidance for mask wearing. Their doctors now recommend wearing ‘double masks’; a cloth mask over a disposable mask. The CDC says that improves filtering out more virus particles and it creates a tighter seal over the mouth and nose.  Spitters also suggests tying knots in the ear straps to improve the mask seal. CDC discourages people from doubling up two disposable masks; it does not have the same preventive effect.

Those who have had their second vaccine shots now no longer need to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus later. Spitters says if it has been two weeks or more since the second shot and your exposure occurs three months or less since your total vaccination, you do not need to quarantine for 14 days.  It is, he adds, “a small liberation from the pandemic.”

— By Bob Throndsen

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