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Benefit of kids returning to Washington classrooms outweighs COVID-19 risk, some experts say

One Seattle doctor says good hand hygiene, good air ventilation, masking and social distancing is what it will take to keep kids safe from COVID-19 in classrooms.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — While teachers can now get COVID-19 vaccines in Washington state, students can’t. So, does the benefit of getting kids into classrooms outweigh the risk of them catching the virus?

Some health experts think so.

“Good hand hygiene, good air ventilation, masking and maintaining social distance,” said Dr. Jasmin Zavala, the clinical director at Sea Mar Adolescent Clinic. That’s what it takes to keep kids safe from COVID-19 in classrooms, according to Zavala.

“If we keep our Washington children out of school any longer, I do have some high concerns that there may be some long-term consequences,” she said.

Those range from falling behind academically and socially, to major mental health concerns.

“Our emergency rooms are overflowing with children and teens in mental health crises,” Zavala said, “I totally get the concerns about going back to school but I also know that going back to school can provide resources and access to services that our youth don’t currently have. Going back to school can happen safely when appropriate guidelines are followed.”

RELATED: Mental health needs on the rise for children and teens during pandemic

And the data in Washington state seems to be reflecting that.

According to data from the Snohomish Health District, from Feb. 19 through March 4, 2021, there were 14 outbreaks in Snohomish County schools. None of those outbreaks had more than five cases.

Comparing that to the state's data, compiled from August 2020, to January 2021, before most kids were even back in classrooms, there were 17 outbreaks in Snohomish County schools.

"So, that’s just about as good as it’s been and that’s largely driven by what’s going on in the community," said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for Snohomish County. "We’re at a declining trajectory and a decreasing level of cases and it’s showing there."

“We now have enough information where we know how to make this happen safely and I strongly encourage anyone that has any questions or concerns to talk with their schools and talk with their doctors,” Zavala said.

The Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is training over 70 doctors from around the state to work as experts and give resources to schools as students return to in-person learning.

“Where I’m located in King County, they have 34 pediatricians that are ready to work with the schools to say, ‘hey we all want kids to go back to school, we totally understand everyone’s concerns with it, let’s see how we can work together to use the safety measures that we know work,’” explained Zavala.

RELATED: Washington teachers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, Inslee announces