Health officers work with schools for safe reopening

North Olympic Peninsula health officials have been working with school administrators this week on plans to reopen classes this fall while using COVID-19 precautions.

One new case of the novel coronavirus was reported Wednesday as the region’s case total rose to 88.

A Clallam County teen contracted COVID-19 after she hosted a friend from another state, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said.

Meanwhile, health officials were working with the Makah Tribe on another recent case involving a child who contracted the virus during an out-of-state visitation, Unthank said.

Clallam County had 47 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, and Jefferson County’s case count remained at 41.

“We certainly are seeing cases transmitted locally, but we’re also seeing an increase in cases from people having out-of-state visitors,” Unthank said Wednesday.

“Having visitors in your home is actually a really good way to get COVID-19, so we are recommending avoiding both out-of-state travel for yourself and having people come visit you here because it does increase risk of transmission given how many hotspots there are around the country at this point.”

Makah tribal Chairman Timothy Greene Sr. issued a Tuesday statement about a child who contracted COVID-19 in another state between June 13 and last Thursday during a visitation with a non-custodial parent.

The child remained out of state with that parent undertaking “appropriate quarantine and heath care measures,” Green wrote in a statement posted on the Makah Emergency Operations Center’s Facebook page.

“We have been working very closely with the tribe,” Unthank said in a telephone interview.

“We have identified some tribal citizens who were in contact with one of our cases,” she added, “and so we’re working on making sure that they’re able to isolate and quarantine and get tested.”

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said he met with public school district superintendents and private school directors in a Zoom conference Tuesday to discuss plans for the 2020-21 school year.

Students and teachers will be required to wear masks when in-person classes begin with physical distancing restrictions in September.

“Right now, we’re trying to control it through masking and physical distancing, and the question is, do we need to do even more than that?” Locke said after the meeting.

“We still have a couple of months to figure it out before the schools open, but the schools are really actively working on this now because it’s just a daunting task.”

In a Wednesday interview, Locke said the goal is to keep schools open.

“If we have to open them and close them, open them and close them, that’s not going to create the educational experience that we’re going for,” he said.

The Port Angeles School Board voted unanimously last week to approve an “AB AB hybrid” model for the 2020-21 school year that combines elements of brick-and-mortar schooling with online distance learning.

Students will be divided into groups and attend classes twice a week — Mondays and Thursdays, or Tuesdays and Fridays — with remote instruction occurring three days per week.

“I have been working very closely with all of our superintendents, including Port Angeles, on their plans, and I do think we do have good plans in place to make it possible to safely reopen schools in the fall,” Unthank said Wednesday.

“One of the reasons they’re having to go to these kind of more extreme plans, like the AB AB blended model, is so that we can make sure that it’s safe for children, no matter what phase we’re in.

“We think that going forward in the fall we’ll be safe because we’re guaranteeing that spacing between children and the appropriate mask-wearing and a bunch of other infection-control measures,” Unthank added.

The Port Townsend School District’s preliminary plan also would have students split their time between in-classroom and remote instruction.

Schools will be challenged because physical distancing limits the number of students who can be in one class, Locke said.

“The more classes you have to have, the more teachers you need,” Locke said.

“Their budgets are not somehow magically expanding to hire more teachers, even if they were available.”

Locke said the Jefferson County school officials were “up to the challenge.”

“It’s something where there’s no road map,” Locke said.

“We’re kind of creating the road map as we go along.”

Meanwhile, the Makah child who contracted COVID-19 was tested last week due to the infection of a family friend of the non-custodial parent, Greene said in his statement.

The tribal council and Sophie Trettevick Indian Health Center in Neah Bay were working with the custodial parent, a tribal member, to take appropriate safety measures prior to the child returning to the community, Greene said.

“Additionally, we are taking proactive steps to safeguard the community and testing the family and relevant contacts in the community as a precaution,” Greene said in the statement.

“It is important to understand that the facts of this case indicate an extremely low risk to the community and the most likely source of the infection was from the out of state contact that occurred after the child left the community between June 13 and July 2.”

Three other Makah tribal members were exposed to a positive COVID-19 case at one Clallam County residence outside the reservation, Greene said. All three were in quarantine as of Tuesday.

“We will continually monitor these cases and take all necessary actions to protect our citizens from the risk of a COVID-19 infection,” Greene said.

The Makah Reservation, including Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach, remain closed for COVID-19 precautions.

“The Makah Tribal Council strongly urges the community to interact with others as though they are infected with COVID-19,” Greene said.

“We are still in a pandemic and must act accordingly in our care for each other,” Greene added.

“Protect yourself and protect others, wear a mask. The threat is real and getting closer.”

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