The Lynden School District began a phased approach to bringing students back into the classroom back in October. With these new guidelines and current rates in Whatcom County, middle school students can return to in-person learning. (Calvin Bratt/Lynden Tribune)

Current rate in Whatcom, 220, lets middle schools resume

WHATCOM ­— Students could be on their way back into classrooms sooner across the state, due to new guidelines issued by Gov. Jay Inslee last week. 

The guidelines are less restrictive than those previously set, toward a goal of getting students back in buildings as opposed to being in remote learning. 

The true effect upon Whatcom County may be muted, however, as many elementary schools are already meeting in-person and middle and high schools in some districts have tried being in-person to some extent, generally ahead of the rest of the state. 

For Inslee, elementary-age students are the priority, with a phased approach. High schoolers aren’t recommended to return unless transmission rates in a county have decreased. 

At a press conference, the governor cited data showing schools not being a major contributor to the spread of COVID-19. 

“Many people’s lives revolve around a regular school schedule and, apart from the academics, schools provide social supports that advance healthy childhood development,” Inslee said. 

The decision to open schools will be left to local  health officials and school boards, however, as it has mostly been in the past.

Under the new guidance, if transmission rates in a county are more than 350 per 100,000 people over 14 days, schools should phase in students prioritizing Pre-K through third grade and students with the highest needs. 

It’s also recommended that in-person extra-curricular activities are canceled or postponed while transmission rates remain this high.

When rates are considered to be moderate, between 50 and 350 per 100,000 over 14 days, remaining elementary and middle school students should then be phased in.

At a moderate rate, extra-curricular activities must follow Safe Start protocols.

A low transmission rate is set as less than 50 cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. Once a county reaches this level, it is recommended that school districts provide in-person learning to all grade levels.

Extracurricular activities must still follow Safe Start protocols even with a low COVID transmission rate.

If coronavirus trends begin to increase again, officials recommend pausing the expansion of in-person learning to limit transmission, but not shutting down in-person learning to students that have already been phased into classrooms.

Whatcom County’s 14-day transmission rate stood at 220.6 on Tuesday, Dec. 22, using data through Dec. 20. That represented a slight drop from 225.5 about a week earlier, but still above the Dec. 1 rate of 194.

The tally of school districts’ transmission rates was also updated, and some were down. It was: Nooksack Valley, 388; Lynden, 267; Mount Baker, 215; Bellingham, 173; Blaine, 165; Ferndale, 158; Meridian, 130.