While transmission of COVID-19 wanes statewide, Lewis County is experiencing increased rates of the viral disease.
And it’s having an effect in classrooms.
Just weeks before students are due to don caps and gowns, a resurgence of the viral disease locally has kicked some area school districts back to remote learning. Districts say they’re continuing to promote social distancing, healthy habits to curb transmission and vaccination events.
No commencement events have been canceled or postponed so far.
The week of May 16-22, Lewis County Public Health and Social Services reported 149 new cases, 19 hospitalizations and five deaths, according to the most recent weekly report. The rate of transmission over the last 14 days has been high and is at 348.9 cases per 100,000 county residents.
Adna is one of those school districts that has been affected by this new wave. Superintendent James Forrest said Adna students and teachers have been in remote learning for about a week, but they plan to return next week. Forrest said it was appropriate to compare the return to remote learning as a large speed bump in the road to a full-time return to the classroom.
“Our safety team determined that, after we received some positive contacts, that we needed to go back to remote, we needed to take a pause,” Forrest said. “It had been really positive since we’ve been going back full time, there’d been no issues. Then there was a spike.”
Forrest said he doesn’t believe this latest spike will affect the school’s senior commencement celebration scheduled for June 12.
The pause on in-person learning has also put the brakes on Adna athletics, with the Adna girls basketball team posting on Twitter that, “the ladies’ program is unaffected but have been put on pause along with other programs while the school is back to remote learning.”
Oakville School District staff on Wednesday issued a letter to parents and families, noting they would be asking all eighth and 12th grade students to stay home for 14 days after infected students in each of the grades came to campus the day before.
The district is reminding students and families to contact staff if they have tested positive in order to conduct contact tracing.
“Oakville School Middle School will remain open during this time. We are working closely with the Grays Harbor Health Department to identify anyone who had close contact with the person to determine if they might have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19,” the Oakville staff’s letter read.
Toledo Superintendent Chris Rust said he’s definitely noticed a spike in contact tracing and transmission this month, though his district remains open and on a schedule allowing four days of in-person learning.
Between March 29 and May 6, Toledo reported no new positive cases of COVID-19 and instilled no warnings to quarantine. But since May 6, Rust said, the district has had 15 positive cases of the virus reported within the district.
Those 15 cases within the last month, he notes, haven't generated a lot of contact with other students and staff.
“Have we noticed an uptick in COVID-positive cases? Yes. But right now, they haven’t reached a threshold where Lewis County Public Health would recommend closures or return to remote learning,” he said.
There’s currently an ongoing concern for the safety of students and staff, Rust said, and they continue to follow masking guidance, social distancing measures and disinfecting routines recommended by state and federal health authorities.
“I hope that we have all our seniors on the stage,” Rust said, adding later: “I’m just hopeful that folks will continue to take this disease seriously and will get vaccinated as quick as possible as they can.”
According to the state Department of Health, Lewis County has the 10th smallest percentage of its total population that is fully vaccinated when compared with the state’s other 38 counties. School districts, among other municipalities within the county, continue to be leaders in promoting and hosting COVID-19 vaccination sites.
Earlier this month, Pe Ell returned all its secondary students and staff to remote learning after 20% of its campus population was urged to quarantine following exposure to the virus. Those restrictions are due to be lifted early next week.
Amanda Haines, director of college relations at Centralia College, said in an email this week that the campus had a “slight uptick” in the number of quarantined and isolated individuals in recent weeks.
Most of those exposures have been traced back to off-campus events, she said.
“The positive COVID-19 cases we’ve experienced were dealt with quickly and efficiently, preventing any spread on our campuses. We’ve seen local cases increasing, and we’ve been actively communicating to staff and students the importance of maintaining vigilance for social/physical distancing, properly wearing their facemasks, staying home if they’re sick, and encouraging vaccination,” she wrote.
The college reported on Monday that it received information on a positive case in the Child Development Center that resulted in contact over the weekend. One person was isolated while three staff members and 10 students were quarantined.
The college said the “variant we are experiencing spreads very quickly and there have been numerous cases of vaccinated people testing positive for COVID-19 after exposure to a positive person.”
Centralia College will host an in-person commencement on Friday, June 18, with no crowds, few guests, social distancing and no opportunity to socialize.
Haines said there’s no contingency plan if an outbreak occurs, but the college is monitoring the situation using information forwarded by the governor’s office and Lewis County Public Health and Social Services.