COVID-19 cases are trending up in Cowlitz County, prompting the health department to recommend schools continue remote learning until officials determine the extent of the spike.
The county reported 28 new virus cases over the weekend, bringing the total to 634. As of Friday, 511 cases were considered recovered.
Two Woodland elementary schools closed for in-person services Monday and Tuesday after two school district staff members tested positive for COVID-19, according school officials.
All staff members at Columbia Elementary School and North Fork Elementary School may have been exposed to COVID-19, so both school buildings will be closed out of caution to protect staff and the public, according to a message to parents from Columbia Principal David Starkey.
The district directed all staff members from both schools to self-quarantine and work from home until appropriate contact tracing can be completed, he wrote.
There will be no in-person services at the schools through Tuesday and perhaps longer, according to the message. Daily instruction will continue remotely, but instruction may look a bit different over the next few days because staff are working from remote locations, according to the message.
“With that being said, we as a school will do our best to honor our instructional schedules and keep instruction consistent and similar with what it has been over the last couple of weeks,” Starkey wrote.
Safety and facilities maintenance staff will continue to deep-clean all schools prior to the return of students, community and staff members, according to the message.
“We have a real desire to get kids back in school and want to take every precaution we can to make sure there’s no spread of infection prior to bringing kids back,” said Michael Green, Woodland superintendent.
Woodland Public Schools will likely postpone the transition to face-to-face learning for elementary students from the planned Sept. 28 start date, according to the message. At this time, the district does not have a new estimated start date for when it will be able to transition to face-to-face learning at any of the schools.
The state recommends distance learning with gradual expansion of in-person learning, beginning with elementary students for counties with a moderate level of virus activity, or a rate of 25 to 75 cases per 100,000. For areas with low virus activity, or a rate of below 25 per 100,000, the state recommends full in-person learning for all elementary students and hybrid learning for middle and high school, eventually moving to in-person.
The Cowlitz County health department was waiting until Monday make a recommendation on in-person learning to see how the Labor Day holiday weekend affected virus activity.
Cowlitz County is currently in the moderate level of COVID-19 activity, at 38 new cases per 100,000 from Sept. 2 to Sept. 15. The county has been at or below moderate level for six-and-a-half weeks, meeting the recommended criteria of being in that range for at least three weeks before considering expanding in-person learning.
The percent of tests coming back positive in Cowlitz County is at about 2.1% for Sept. 1 through Sept. 7. The state recommends caution if this figure is above 5%.
However, the county health department recommends schools wait to bring more students back in-person because of the recent uptick in cases, according to the report.
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