Our understanding and knowledge of COVID-19 and its impact continue to improve. Yet the State plans for reopening schools have not always been kept up to speed with new scientific discoveries and evolved accordingly.

These plans are a blunt instrument for addressing COVID-19 risks at schools and should be revised regularly in light of up-to-date scientific developments.


School setting is not a key driver of the spread of COVID-19 among students and the community at large

Incidence rates among students were virtually identical in Sweden, where schools stayed open, and Finland, where schools were closed. Teachers in Sweden were not exposed to a higher level of risks compared to other occupations [6]. The European Center of Disease Control stated that child to child transmission in schools is uncommon and not the primary cause of COVID-19 infection in children. Observational data suggest that re-opening schools has not been associated with significant increases in community transmission [7] as child-to-child and child-to-adult transmission is far less likely than adult-to-child transmission [8].

A recent analysis by a team of data scientists led by an economist from Brown University has concluded that schools are not superspreader of COVID-19 [9].

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[1][2][3] [4]

Incidence Rate is a poor indicator to use for school opening

While the Incidence Rate of the county has fallen at a slower pace partly due to expansion of test capacity, number of deaths per 100K is 1.5 now vs 7.1 at its peak. Case Fatality Rate (CFR) has dropped significantly to 1.2% [1]. Some researches have estimated Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) to be around 0.02-0.4% [2] and as low as 0.01% for those under 50 [3] as testing reports likely only capture 4-16% of actual cases [4]. Merely 2% of hospital beds in the county are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients [5].

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3ft social distance is sufficient in most school settings

The requirement that students be seated six feet apart in schools during the coronavirus pandemic—which has meant that many kids have been forced to stay home because of space constraints in classrooms—should be reduced to three feet, according to experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. [1]

On March 19, 2021, the CDC revised its guidelines for schools, saying three feet of distance between students is sufficient for all elementary and many middle and high schools. [2]

A study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, that found similar rates of spread in Massachusetts school districts that used a three-feet minimum and in those that used six. [3]

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Under Harvard Global Health Institute's school reopening framework, King County schools can reopen

To help cut through the noise and sometimes conflicting advice, a network of research, policy and public health experts convened by Harvard’s Global Health Institute and Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics today launches a Key Metrics For COVID Suppression framework that provides clear, accessible guidance to policy makers and the public on how to target and suppress COVID-19 more effectively across the nation.

They have also specifically addressed the Path to Zero & Schools. [10]

Experts say “We know the coronavirus spreads especially fast in groups confined to indoor spaces. Children are at risk either way — if they go to school, they may get sick and new outbreaks may spike. If they don’t, they miss out on in-person classes, which play an essential role in supporting the mental health of children. The shift to online learning, while harmful for all kids, also exacerbates existing racial and socioeconomic disparities in education, and risks setting back an entire generation of children”.

They offer guidance how to prioritize school opening depending on the risk level of the county. King County is at a Yellow Risk Level for which the framework recommends:

  • 1st priority: Grades preK to 5 and in-person special education services at grade levels preK-8 open if conditions for pandemic resilient teaching and learning spaces can be achieved at scale [...]

  • 2nd priority: Grades 6 to 8 and in-person special education services at grade levels 9-12 open if conditions for pandemic resilient teaching and learning spaces can be achieved at scale [...]

  • 3rd priority: If sufficient pandemic resilient learning space is available AFTER allocation to K-8, grades 9-12 open in a hybrid schedule with only a subset of students on campus at any particular point of time to facilitate de-densification [...]

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Washington State school reopening thresholds are the most restrictive in the country

Washington State current guidelines set a threshold of 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over 2 weeks for schools to reopen fully. This is unnecessary restrictive and not aligned with the guidelines of major public health institutes (see Harvard data above for example).

A recent survey [11] by the Seattle Times shows that the Washington State thresholds are "impossibly low".

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