OMAK – Students at North Omak Elementary School returned to remote, online learning on Nov. 15 in the wake of staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
Omak district Superintendent Michael Porter announced the switch from a hybrid model to all-online on Sunday Nov. 14.
A few COVID-19 cases have been reported in other local districts, but most have not had any cases. Okanogan County’s incidence rate rose on Monday to 53.8 cases per 100,000 population per 14-day period from 42.1 on Friday. The county reported seven new cases Nov. 13-15, with 23 in the past 14 days.
“We have completed contact tracing to identify staff members who may have been exposed and need to quarantine,” Porter said. “The identified staff members are now in quarantine for 14 days. Working with the Okanogan County Public Health and their guidelines, it has been determined that students had limited exposure to these staff members.”
But, “in an abundance of caution,” district officials decided preschool through second grade students would return to online learning for two weeks.
“Face-to-face instruction will continue for all other Omak schools with the same schedules they are currently using and is anticipated to resume at North preschool and elementary on Monday, Nov. 30,” he said.
North buildings and classrooms were disinfected last weekend, with special focus on areas where the infected staff members worked.
Meal deliveries are continuing via school bus. They are being prepared at other buildings in the district; North families also may pick up meals from East Omak Elementary, Omak Middle School and Omak High School.
“As we are entering into the holiday season, please be mindful of COVID-19 exposure,” said Porter. “Health professionals across the country have expressed their concerns about a possible increase in COVID-19 positive cases due to travel and the mixing of friends and family. It is recommended that anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms test for COVID-19.”
The Chronicle contacted other districts in Okanogan, Ferry and northern Douglas counties concerning coronavirus impacts. Not all responded by deadline on Monday.
Okanogan Superintendent Ashley Goetz said her district has had “great success” during the past month with a hybrid learning model and plans to continue.
“The best thing for kids right now is to be in school in person, if possible,” she said. “We are sensitive to each family’s needs, however, and continue to accommodate those families who have chosen 100 percent remote learning.”
In Tonasket, the district was informed of an elementary staff member having tested positive for COVID.
“As is always the case, our top priority at Tonasket School District is to keep our students, staff and community healthy and safe,” the district said. “Out custodial staff has been mobilized to begin thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the elementary school.”
According to Okanogan Public Health Community Health Director Lauri Jones, the Tonasket School District is “OK for now” for in-person learning. Jones said added that Public Health is “investigating a possible outbreak in Oroville.”
Additional details were not available at press time.
In the Methow Valley, Superintendent Tom Venable said data from the state suggests that schools that have safely reopened for in-person instruction and demonstrated strict adherence to a long list of COVID-19 strategies “have proven themselves to be one of the safest places within our communities.”
Such strategies should be universally applied, especially with cold/flu and holiday seasons coming, the data suggest, he said.
He asked community members to continue implementing mitigation strategies, replace old traditions with new ones that limit gatherings, travel and exposure, and attend school remotely during the first week after school breaks if the student and/or immediate family members could have been exposed.
Paul Turner, superintendent in Grand Coulee, said his district is running half days four days per week for kindergarten through sixth grade; kindergarten through second-graders have been on the schedule for four weeks and third through sixth grades just finished their first week.
“It has been going amazingly well with both staff and students excited to be in school,” he said.
Plans calling for bringing seventh- through 12th-graders back Dec. 7 in a hybrid model at 25 percent capacity.
“This will be contingent on not getting shut down by the governor,” he said.
Paschal Sherman Indian School, meanwhile, is doing 100 percent distance learning for most students and has been since March, said Interim Superintendent/Principal Lori Falcon.
Some special education and highest-need students are attending in person for one-on-one tutoring.
“Our plan to reopen with a hybrid model of instruction on Nov. 2 was postponed due to an increase in virus cases,” she said.
In Ferry County, which is in Phase 3 compared to Okanogan County’s Phase 3, the Curlew and Republic districts have been doing in-person instruction since the start of the school year. As of Monday, the county reported eight new cases in the previous 14 days, including five from Nov. 13-15, bringing the total to 43.
“We are not planning to move to full online, but are looking at options if forced to do so,” said Curlew Superintendent John Glenewinkel.
“Republic plans to remain open for in-person learning,” said Republic Superintendent Kevin Young. “Students who have been working remotely this year will remain online for the time being.”
Several Okanogan County superintendents pointed to free drive-through testing being offered through December under a partnership between the health district and schools. Testing was offered at North Omak Elementary School and LifeLine Ambulance last week, and Okanogan Middle School and Oroville High School earlier this week.
Another testing opportunity runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, Nov. 18, at Tonasket High School, 35 HS Highway 20.
Students, families, college students and community members are encouraged to get tested, said the health district. Pre-registration recommended at https://forms.gle/UMVVBjjf8f9GBeut8.
“The test is painless, as you only need to swab the inside of each nostril for 10 seconds and you should receive the results within 48 hours,” said Porter. “Remember, each of us plays a part in helping to keep our schools open.”