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  • Harlan Gallinger, MD

Not all King County is the same, so not all King County School Districts should have the same plan

While there is no question that there has been an increase of COVID-19 cases in King County during the month of July that has inspired much fear about school reopening, the community transmission rates continue to vary widely. Because the rate of community transmission is probably the most important factor in overall safety and risk with school reopening, that should be something that is a focal point. I suspect this wide variance across our large county is why Public Health Seattle & King County (PHSKC) has not issued a mandate that all schools should open in remote learning like Pierce County did last week. So here are a series of snapshots from the PHSKC data dashboard from July 28 at 11:00 pm. https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/data/daily-summary.aspx


I'll start with the South King County communities of Auburn, Federal Way, and Kent. You can see continued widespread community transmission with test positive rates in the 6-8%, which is much higher than the recommended 2% or less to indicate low-level community spread. In fact the July peaks are higher than the March-April peaks. So there is no question in my mind that these school districts should not be opening to in-person learning unless the community transmission rates plummet.



Now let's look at two communities at our border on the I-405 corridor: Renton and Bellevue. You can see that yes there is increased community transmission that is similar to the March-April peak, but does not appear to exceed that currently. Nonetheless, the amount of community transmission is certainly concerning and one could argue that these school districts should also be concerned about opening to in-person learning at this time.


Now here are the communities (public health designated tracts, at least) that make up the Issaquah School District in alphabetical order. You can see that the amount of community transmission just isn't happening locally like it is regionally. Unfortunately, COVID-19 also tracts with income so this should not be surprising. For the City of Issaquah, the March-April wave was driven mostly by cases in Long Term Care facilities. For Sammamish, the cases are higher now that in March-April, but the numbers were so low in the spring, about anything would eclipse those. Also Sammamish is larger than Redmond and Issaquah, which is why its "Rate per 100,000 residents" is still half of Bellevue's.


Do we need to be mindful of trends in our region, of course, but the fact remains that community transmission has remained quite low in the 110 square mile area that is the Issaquah School District, so our School Reopening plan should not necessarily look like our neighbors because our data is different. No different than our interventions and opportunities for acceleration and exploration look different than our neighbors because they are catered to the needs of our students and families--not students in Bellevue, Renton, or South King County.


The real question is: why are we not developing a School Reopening plan that mitigates the risk based on our current low community transmission rates of 0-2.5%? The community transmission rates within the borders of the Issaquah School District continue to be quite low and this should driving our decision-making--the visual comparison in the snapshots I have provided should be easy to appreciate the difference. We are in the business of education, so I would hope we could be using data to drive our decision, not emotion or fear. Our students and families deserve the opportunity for the best education we can deliver, and our teachers deserve to know that we can mitigate the risk to as close to zero as possible, and we are doing many things that no other district is doing.


The evidence has not changed that children age <10 both acquire and transmit COVID-19 at rates close to zero. That holds in King County as well which has run essential child care for the past 6 months with zero clusters or known cases of student-to-teacher transmission. The Issaquah School District has had in-person summer school as well, without any known student-to-teacher transmission. Guidance from the National Academies of Sciences, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control all say the same thing: open schools for in-person learning for our youngest learners, cohort for our middle grades, and minimize in-person contact for our high school students.






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