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Washington state sees 189 COVID-19 outbreaks related to K-12 schools from August through September

The median number of cases in each outbreak was five which shows schools are doing well to prevent transmission and respond to positive cases, health officials said.

SEATTLE — From Aug. 1 to Sept. 30, there have been 189 COVID-19 outbreaks related to schools in the state, with 1,284 cases associated with these outbreaks, according to the Washington Department of Health (DOH).

The details were shared during a Wednesday DOH briefing featuring State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist, Deputy Secretary of COVID-19 Response Lacy Fehrenbach and Acting Assistant Secretary for the DOH Michele Roberts.

Fehrenbach shared the preliminary data on COVID-19 activity in K-12 schools throughout the state with full-time in-person learning returning.

Roughly 88 percent of the 1,284 cases associated with these schools were in students ages 19 and under.

However, Fehrenbach said that the median number of cases per outbreak was relatively low at five cases, which indicates schools are doing well with preventing transmission and responding to positive cases.

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“That relatively small number of cases in each outbreak is an indication that schools are continuing to do a really good job on layered prevention measures and responding when they have cases and outbreaks,” Fehrenbach said.

Meanwhile, the DOH expects to have 230,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 available for distribution by the end of next week.

The timing correlates to the expected approval of the vaccine by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Roberts, the pediatric doses are not in the state, but the first shipments are expected to be on their way as soon as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives the vaccine emergency authorization.

Once in the state, the doses will be pre-positioned for when the CDC gives final approval, which is expected around the beginning of November.  

“The federal government has indicated they will start shipping those to the state after the FDA has issued the emergency-use authorization. So, they’ll be pre-positioned in the state ideally early next week,” Roberts said. “They cannot be used until the CDC has also made their recommendations, but they will be here in the state for late next week if everything goes according to plan on the federal timeline.”

In Washington state, there are roughly 680,000 children ages 5-11, but the DOH expects only about 30 percent of that population to immediately seek the vaccine once it is approved based on national polls.

Chain pharmacies with a federal partnership will also be able to get doses of the pediatric vaccine. The DOH expects pharmacies statewide to get around 80,000 doses.

In order to distribute the vaccine to this age group, the state is working with schools to offer clinics and caravans focused on vaccinating children and families.

Washington State Representative Kim Schrier spoke with KING 5 further about the distribution plans Wednesday morning: 

Lindquist also said that current modeling shows that, for a vaccine that is 100% effective, the state would need a vaccination rate of roughly 80 percent to completely squash the virus, but the state is not yet close to that threshold and the COVID-19 vaccine is not 100 percent effective, similar to virtually all vaccines.

Additionally, the delta variant has made it more difficult to predict the threshold due to its high infectivity rate.

“The problem is that we’ve got pockets of 10 percent or 20 percent vaccination, and then we have pockets of 80 to 90 percent vaccination. So, it’s not a universal population like a model would predict,” Lindquist said.

Modelers continue to see week-to-week that roughly 30 percent of the state’s population is still susceptible to the virus.

Only about 60 percent of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest DOH data.