Not every student wants to go back to school.
As the second half of the school year starts, about 1,493 Cowlitz County public school students offered the option to learn in person have chosen to stay fully remote, or about 12.8% of the total students eligible to be in hybrid.
Even with that many students in school, Cowlitz County only recorded two COVID-19 outbreaks in its schools from Aug. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020, putting it on the lower range of counties, according to a report this month by the state Department of Health’s on COVID-19 Outbreaks in Washington K-12 schools.
“There’s encouraging news here,” said COVID-19 Outbreak Response Senior Epidemiologist Laura Newman in a statement. “We are seeing fairly low levels of COVID-19 transmission within school settings so far ... school administrators, teachers and staff are doing a good job of implementing preventative measures.”
The Longview School District did not provide requested data for this story.
Outbreaks in schools
The state defines an outbreak as two or more positive COVID-19 cases among students or staff with an onset of symptoms within a 14-day period of each other, as long as the people do not share a household and are not close contacts of each other in another setting.
In the five-months when students started to return to classrooms, the state health department reported that 13 counties reported COVID-19 outbreaks associated with 84 schools, totaling 305 cases.
About 64% of the outbreaks were small, with only two or three people involved, and cases were evenly split between students and staff.
Cases in student age groups were evenly dispersed, but among staff the age group with the most cases was the 40- to 49-year-old range with 43 cases or 14%, then the 50- to 59-year-old range with 39 cases, or 13% of the total.
Cowlitz County had two outbreaks with a total of four cases associated with them, meaning each outbreak was only two cases. In Clark County there were 11 outbreaks with 24 associated cases, and most of those outbreaks were also two cases per outbreak, the report said.
Spokane had the most outbreaks with 33, totaling 151 cases. The typical outbreak in that county involved five people.
Skagit, Stevens, Thurston and Walla Walla counties had the least outbreaks, recording only one outbreak with two associated cases in the five months.
Deputy Secretary of Health Lacy Fehrenbach said the Department of Health is sharing the data “so that educators, families, local public health and communities can see and learn from what’s happening in schools with regards to COVID-19.”
The DOH will release another report about outbreaks in schools at the end of February that will include data from Aug. 1, 2020, through Jan. 31, 2021.
“Our goal is to help schools protect the health of their staff and students, the families they go home to and the broader community,” said Fehrenbach in a press release.
The report also showed the weeks of Oct. 25 to Nov. 15 had the most approximate outbreak start dates, and the weeks of Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 had the most cases associated with outbreaks, by week of approximate illness onset date.
Local schools are not uniform in report case data, but Longview and Castle Rock use dashboards to report all cases connected to students and staff, while Kelso uses a dashboard to report school-based transmission only.
Since the beginning of the school year, there has been one recorded case of school-based transmission in Kelso, of a high school student.
Castle Rock has recorded 28 total cases, with the majority of them students. Since the start of the year, 23 students have tested positive along with five staff members.
The majority of the cases, 21, did not have school exposure. There were four cases with school exposure and three cases with athletic exposure. By school, the high school had the most cases with eight, followed by the intermediate and middle schools with six each, the elementary school with five and the athletics department with three.
In Longview, there have been 71 total cases, split fairly evenly between staff and students. There have been 38 reported student cases and 33 reported staff cases.
Of the total cases, 66 were not transmitted at school. Of the five that were transmitted at school, three were staff members and two were students.
By location, Robert Gray had the most reported cases with 10, followed by the Maintenance, Operations, Transportation and Facilities department with eight and Mark Morris High School with seven.
The low local rates has allowed districts to bring more students back in person, often despite state guidance metrics. The metrics are intended as guidelines, the state has said, and the ultimate decision about how and when is up to local school districts and local health officials.
— Editor's note: This story was updated to include data from Longview School District.