Other schools also struggle with COVID surge
OKANOGAN – Nearly a quarter of Okanogan School District students were out of school at one point last week, leading Superintendent Ashley Goetz to issue a plea to families to remain vigilant concerning COVID-19.
“There is no blame to be placed, and no fingers to be pointed, this is simply reality,” she wrote in a letter to district families last week. “Unfortunately, COVID is widespread in each of our school buildings. At one point this week, there were approximately 230 absences from school, which equates to 23 percent of our student body.
“While not all of those absences are related to COVID, many are either confirmed cases or students on quarantine due to exposure.”
As of Sept. 17, for data current through Sept. 16, there were 46 new cases of COVID-19 reported county-wide on Sept. 16, according to Okanogan County Public Health. The overall two-week incidence rate (cases per rolling 14-day period per 100,000 population) was 1,152. For the unvaccinated population, the rate was 2,022, while the vaccinated population rate was 333.
The overall death toll rose to 44, with three COVID-related fatalities reported Sept. 16.
Youth through age 19 showed the highest number of cases reported Sept. 16 at 18. The 40-59 age group was second, with 14 cases that date, while the 20-39 age group had 10. Two new cases were reported in each of the 60-79 and 80-plus age groups.
For cases reported Sept. 16, Omak led with 24, while Okanogan had six. Others were Oroville, four; Tonasket, three; Brewster, Twisp and Winthrop, two each, and Carlton, Elmer City and Riverside, one each.
Goetz said the district’s top goal is to keep the doors open to students since in-person learning and staff support of students remains a priority.
“In order to do so it is going to take a continued diligent effort from both school personnel and families,” she wrote.
She said families must remain diligent about monitoring students for symptoms and not send student to school if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
“If your student tests positive for COVID it is critical you notify the school immediately,” she continued. “The sooner we know the sooner we can begin the quarantine process for other students and reduce the impact of positive cases.”
She said families will be notified if a student is required to quarantine.
The Okanogan district quarantined sixth-graders and put them on a remote learning schedule last week because of a COVID-19 outbreak. A few staff members also were quarantined, the district announced Sept. 13.
The quarantine began Sept. 14 and was to continue until at least Sept. 17.
Sixth-graders’ last in-school exposure date was Sept. 9, the district said in a letter to parents and guardians.
According to the school, to return to in-person learning, a student must have a negative test and not have any symptoms. The first possible date for return was Sept. 17.
Without a test, a student can return to class 14 days after the last exposure as long as there are no symptoms. That date would be Sept. 24.
The district offered free testing Sept. 15.
To deal with the situation, the school district is adding an early release day this Friday, Sept. 24, for all students “to give administration time to work with their staff to develop opportunities for all students to access classes, whether they are at home or at school,” Goetz wrote.
“The past 18 months continue to stretch students, staff and families to their limits,” Goetz wrote. “Together, we will get through this.”
Some districts have begun instituting spectator restrictions at sporting events. (See related story in Sports.)
The Omak district has reminded students they must wear masks on buses.
It’s also encouraging parents and guardians to drive their students to and from school, rather than having them ride the bus. Students who live within one mile of their school need to walk or arrange for a parent or guardian to drive them.
The district has closed the Performing Arts Center to outside users.
In Curlew, the district notified families twice in the past couple weeks of positive cases among students. One was at the elementary level; the other was not identified as to educational level.
Northeast Tri-County Health District quarantine guidelines were followed, and close contacts were identified, the district said.
There was no indication in the notices that any athletes were involved.