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School and Youth Activity Guidance

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Benton and Franklin Counties' schools recommended to resume full time, in-person learning.

Guidance for Schools and Youth Activities

The Washington State Department of Health published updated Guidance to Prevent and Respond to COVID-19 in K-12 Schools and Child Cares.(Oct. 25, 2022).  This guidance will go into effect on November 1, 2022. This update was made in response to the rescission of COVID-19 emergency proclamations and state of emergency

This guidance, in accordance with the state Department of Health’s mission to protect and improve the health of all people in Washington State, supports K-12 schools, childcare/early learning, and school partners to achieve our shared goal of maintaining safe, in-person learning and mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Many of the K-12 and childcare COVID-19 guidance requirements have shifted to recommendations. To minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses, K-12 schools and childcare providers should continue to use best practices and lessons learned since the beginning of the pandemic, including masking, testing, and improving ventilation, as part of everyday infectious disease prevention. 

Highlights of the changes

  • Consolidated sections and COVID-19 prevention and response strategies supported by Washington State statute and Labor & Industries rules
  • Updated criteria for defining outbreaks
  • Revised recommendations for return from isolation to include repeat testing

Schools in Washington State are required to comply with the following:

 

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    Guidance for K-12

    November 1, 2022 changes:

    • Many of the K-12 and child care COVID-19 guidance requirements have shifted to recommendations. To minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses, K-12 schools and child cares should continue to use best practices and lessons learned since the beginning of the pandemic, including masking, testing, and improving ventilation, as part of everyday infectious disease prevention.
    • DOH recommends that schools and child cares develop protocols to ensure that individuals who have COVID-19 isolate away from others and do not attend in-person school or child care until they have completed Students, children, or staff who test positive for COVID-19 should follow the DOH What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 guidance.
    • The COVID-19 Symptom Decision Trees will be updated following the release of the school and child care In the meantime, schools, child cares, and parents/guardians can continue to use this resource for steps on what to do if someone is exposed or experiences COVID-19 symptoms.

    Guidance for School Sports

    School Sports

    January 24, 2022 – Washington Department of Health

    Effective immediately: In support of our goal to support in-person learning and in order to maximize constrained COVID testing supplies for symptomatic students and staff as well as close contacts participating in Test-to-Stay or returning from quarantine, DOH is changing the testing frequency for high-contact sports and cheer.

    Schools/districts will now be required to:

    1. Test high contact sport athletes the day of competition only and exclude those who test positive. Testing of asymptomatic athletes three times a week is no longer required. By way of reminder, a student-athlete does not need to test if they have tested positive and recovered from COVID in the last 90 days.
    2. Ensure universal masking of all athletes during all practices/training for these high-risk sports. Coaches, trainers and staff will not be required to be tested but MUST wear masks in all practices/training AND competitions.

    This is a welcomed shift in guidance for many, but it is imperative that schools stay focused on continuing mask wearing, distancing where possible, and supporting vaccinations and getting boosted during times of extremely high community transmission. Vaccination offers the strongest protection against severe disease, including the need for hospitalization when breakthrough cases occur.

     

     

      Guidance for Higher Education

      The state Department of Health (DOH) issued revised Guidance for Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) during COVID-19. 11/1/2022

      Updates include information about reporting requirements, isolation and exposure notification, vaccinations, general prevention and response strategies, and additional resources.

      Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

      How does the Health District make decisions on in-person learning recommendations for schools in Benton and Franklin Counties?

      Benton-Franklin Health District utilizes state guidelines in DOH’s Tools to Prepare for Provision of In-Person Learning among K-12 Students at Public and Private Schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic, as well as local data and input from schools and community partners. The state guidelines specify that:

      “The decision to resume or expand in-person learning is complex and requires weighing both risks and benefits to children, staff, their families, and the broader community. With regards to COVID-19, DOH recommends that local leaders consider COVID-19 activity level (i.e., case rates, percent test positivity, trends, etc.) as well as the educational, social and emotional benefits of in-person learning for students.”

      Schools had to close in the spring at lower numbers. How can it be safe to provide in-person learning now?

      The decision to close schools in the spring was not based on the number of cases. In the spring, the country didn’t know a lot about COVID-19 and how it spreads. We now know more about how COVID-19 spreads so schools can be better prepared to limit transmission. We also have important tools like mandatory face coverings and physical distancing which have been effective in reducing transmission. We also have not seen evidence of transmission in the school setting, particularly when safety measures are being implemented.

      I, or my child, have medical conditions that put us at higher risk for COVID-19 and/or I don’t feel safe sending them to school.

      BFHD continues to recommend that people at higher risk for serious illness with COVID-19 work remotely or continue distance learning. Schools are determining how to continue to offer distance learning options, so families can make choices. This  School Decision-Making Tool for Parents, Caregivers, and Guardians from the CDC can help families make decisions between in-person and distance learning.

      What is the definition of a “close contact”?

      A close contact is defined by the CDC as “Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

      * Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.

      School Indoor Air Quality Resources

      Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is an important component of creating a safe and healthy indoor school environmentboth during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

      The Environmental Protection Agencies (EPAhas many valuable resources that can help your school develop a framework for effective school IAQ management and an action kit of indoor air quality tools.

      The CDC  recommends maximizing the ventilation rate of your school HVAC system to improve the IAQ in schools.

      The Washington State Department of Health has a helpful checklist on topics including ventilation, controlling common pollutants, and reducing chemical use. Another resource is a DOH Guidance Chart with recommendations on what school activities are safe to continue during hazardous air quality conditions. A full breakdown of Washington State Department of Health resources is available at The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, including guidance on wildfire smoke, particulate matter pollution, and power outages.

      If you have questions or concerns about your school’s indoor air quality, contact Benton-Franklin Health District’s School Environmental Health and Safety Program at (509) 460-4205