SEATTLE — Students in Washington state may return to the classroom this fall before a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Though state officials have said the goal is to have at least some face-to-face instruction this fall, Dr. Ali Mokdad with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington says we need to be prepared to dial back and close schools if coronavirus cases begin to increase.
The IHME predicts there could be a powerful second wave of the coronavirus that could lead to tens of thousands of new deaths from COVID-19.
The IHME predicts the second wave will start September 15, around the same time school starts for many students in Washington.
The predictions estimate nationwide deaths will reach 169,890 by October 1, which is an increase of about 60,000 from today. The prediction has a possible range between 133,201 and 290,222 deaths.
"Deaths nationwide are predicted to remain fairly level through August and begin to rise again in the fourth week of August with a more pronounced increase during September, although some states will see the increase earlier due to increased mobility and relaxation of social distancing mandates," according to a release from IHME.
In Washington state, experts predict about 1,400 total deaths, which is about 300 more than the state has right now.
The state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction released guidance for reopening schools after months of coronavirus closures. A panel of 123 people, including some from eastern Washington, worked to develop it.
The guidance includes a mask requirement for all students and staff in K-12 settings.
In order to meet state Department of Health guidelines, some schools may reopen in the fall with a hybrid of face-to-face or online instruction, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said. All districts will also need an alternative plan to return to fully remote learning if local health authorities or Gov. Jay Inslee mandate future closures.
"Changing health conditions in a county or region may cause a local health authority or even the Governor to have to reconsider this opportunity to open, but the primary planning of most districts should be a presumption of a fall opening," Reykdal wrote.
Inslee reiterated the need to reassess plans to reopen schools if coronavirus cases spike or spread in Washington.
"We cannot guarantee that school will open in fall. But for now, this guidance provides a path that schools, educators and families need to plan for the coming months and the fall," Inslee said. "Kids need to be learning but they also need to be safe and healthy.”