‘We’re not done with omicron’: Northeast Washington school districts continue to evade mask requirements
Although some local school districts are evading the statewide mask mandate in Northeast Washington, health officials warn that omicron still poses a significant risk to residents and puts pressure on local hospitals.
The Kettle Falls School District, along with the Colville School District, removed mask mandates for students this week, which the governor confirmed on Thursday violates state law.
On Friday, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction had sent notices to both school districts, alerting them to their violations.
“We will need to see official confirmation from the districts themselves that they are coming into compliance, and as far as I know, we have not seen it yet,” OSPI spokeswoman Katy Payne wrote in an email on Friday.
OSPI also sent a similar notice to the Richland School District, where the school board amended its resolution to comply with the date set by the governor for the end of the mask’s term: March 21.
School districts risk fines and penalties from the Department of Labor and Industries, as well as potentially compromised state and federal funding through OSPI, if they fail to comply with the school-wide mask mandate. ‘State. Masks must be worn in schools by teachers and students.
Northeast Tri-County Health District health officials said they will continue to work with school districts to offer testing and other supports. However, they added that just because cases are declining does not mean the region is omicron-free.
“We’re not done with omicron, and we’ll still be dealing with it after March 21,” health chief Dr. Sam Artzis told reporters on Friday.
Schools are at high risk for transmission due to the nature of the gatherings in those settings, said health district administrator Matt Schanz, which is why things like masks are important.
The hospital system in the northeastern parts of the state remains strained in some areas. Newport Hospital has had no acute care beds available for eight days so far in February, due to the high volume of COVID patients. The rural hospital’s COVID count hovered around five patients, a high for the 24-bed facility.
Additionally, health officials warned that while omicron could be mild for many, some children are still hospitalized with the virus in the Interior Northwest. The omicron wave affected many children compared to previous waves, according to state data.
From January 23 through February 6, 4,458 cases were confirmed among children and adolescents in Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens and Whitman counties.
In the past two weeks for which data is available, there have been two additional child and adolescent deaths from COVID-19 in the state. In total, since January 2021, 15 children and adolescents have died from COVID-19 in Washington.
Artzis said while children could do better than adults with the virus, children are not immune to infecting more vulnerable people.
There is a risk in schools without a mask mandate for older or pregnant staff, as well as for anyone who is immunocompromised. When no one wears a mask except the immunocompromised person, it reduces the effectiveness of masking, he added.
Artzis said the health district will continue to offer assistance to all local school districts.
Here is an overview of local numbers
On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District reported 205 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.
There are 156 patients hospitalized in Spokane with the virus.
The Panhandle Health District reported 107 new cases of COVID-19 and now has 4,250 pending cases.
There are 80 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.