The board and administration will discuss the next steps and timing toward the goal of returning all students to full-time, face-to-face learning. The media, in discussing the updated CDC guidance on physical distancing has oversimplified the guidance and has created a community expectation that we fully reopen schools. Some factors may restrict, or at least temper, our ability to fully reopen.
On March 25, the Washington State Department of Health modified its school reopening guidance — reducing the 6' physical distancing mandate down to, in some circumstances 3' of physical distancing.
Pages 7- 8 of the DOH K-12 Guidance states:
Create cohorts or groups of students with dedicated staff who remain together throughout the day, at recess and lunchtime. These groups should remain consistent from day to day and should not be combined or mixed. Staying in small groups limits the amount of contact between individuals. Reducing the mixing of students, teachers, and staff through groups:
Consider block schedules to minimize mixing among students. Assign seating in classrooms for all students so those in close contact with COVID-19 cases can be quickly identified. Multiple groups of students may use the same facility as long as they are in limited contact with and physically distanced from other groups. When needed, divide large spaces like full-size gyms, playgrounds, or sports fields into separate areas for different cohorts or small groups. Create a barrier with equipment such as cones, chairs, or tables to maintain separation between groups.
Practice physical distancing of at least three feet or more between students within groups and in classrooms as much as possible. In certain circumstances (described below), students must still maintain six feet of distance. Staff should continue to maintain six feet of physical distance from other staff and students in classrooms and otherwise.
Create space between students and reduce the amount of time they are close with each other. Your ability to do this will depend on students’ ages and developmental and physical abilities. Select strategies to increase physical distancing that will work for your school and the space available. Maintaining at least three feet of distance is most important when students or staff will be engaged in something for more than a few minutes, like during class or reading, or quiet time. There may be brief moments, such as passing by others in the hallway or during play at recess when students are not fully physically distanced from each other. Not all strategies will be feasible for all schools. Consider all opportunities to increase physical space between students during all scheduled activities while limiting interactions in large group settings.
At least six feet of distance must be maintained for the following circumstances:
In areas with high community transmission, CDC and DOH recommend that middle and high school students use cohorting (grouping students) and at least three feet of distance between students or at least six feet of physical distance between students if cohorting is not possible. CDC defines high community transmission as COVID-19 case rate of greater than 200 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days or test positivity is greater than 10%. Community case rates and test positivity are available by county on the Governor’s Risk Assessment Dashboard and DOH Data Dashboard.
Because of the structure of our elementary schools, grouping, or cohorting students, is possible and we have successfully done so. At the middle school and high school levels tightly grouping students is not as easily done. To do so would eliminate opportunities for students to receive instruction that is targeted to their skills, performance levels, and interests. Also, secondary content area teachers are not well equipped to teach the multiple subjects that tight cohorting would necessitate. It deserves noting that the CDC and DOH are public health agencies and their recommendation for cohorting is not informed by the "on-the-ground" realities of our educational system.
Cowlitz County is reporting a rapid increase in COVID Cases.
These numbers are lagging indicators of disease progression. They actually look at cases for which tests were administered 20 days to 7 days before the test dates. For March 22 the data were for tests performed between 2/24 and 3/9. For March 29 3/3-3/16. The most current data were for 3/21-4/3
Looking at the daily case reports paints a somewhat different picture of COVID-19 disease progression in Cowlitz County. The chart below shows the case rate in Cowlitz County by report date. It is very predictive (though not exact) of what we can expect the formally published case rates to be in the coming weeks.
You can see from this chart that in the last few weeks the number of COVID cases has increased dramatically. We will be well over the 300/100K/14-day threshold for the coming few weeks at least. The good news is that in recent days it appears that the curve has stabilized and flattened. We will see what happens in the coming weeks.
South Cowlitz County is an outlier. Cowlitz County also disaggregates the cases by ZIP code. Since the end of January, the two primary Woodland ZIP codes have consistently trended below the rates in the County. Taken alone, the Woodland School District is still below the 200/100K-14-day threshold. There are two unknowns that we must consider. 1) Is it likely that we will remain below the county mean? 2) What is the possibility that even if we are below the county mean we will exceed the 200/100K/14-day threshold?
I hope to fully reopen WMS and WHS to students on April 27. Many factors may cause a delay or modification of timing.
The decision must be considered in light of the guidance of the DOH, County Health, and data on COVID rates and trends.