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caption: Seattle School for Boys 6th-grade student Ari Elbert, center, laughs while talking with a classmate on the first day of school on Monday, September 13, 2021, in Seattle.
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Seattle School for Boys 6th-grade student Ari Elbert, center, laughs while talking with a classmate on the first day of school on Monday, September 13, 2021, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Covid infections down among children in King County since school started

Covid infection rates haven’t increased for kids in King County since they went back to school. In fact, transmission among youth has gone down since the return to physical classrooms.

Last summer saw a surge in Covid cases among all age groups as the delta variant of the virus swept through King County. But since school started for K-12 students, Covid cases in the 0 to 17 age group have dropped 6% overall, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County. The agency also cited a larger, 28% drop in cases for people between the ages of 18 and 64.

“We don't know whether these differences will be sustained or whether they might be related to increasing protection from vaccine or prior infection, from behavior change among older children and adults, or differences in behaviors or transmission risk related to in-person schooling or other activities among youth,” said Sharon Bogan with Public Health — Seattle & King County in an email.

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In addition to masking, social distancing, and testing protocols, some school districts like Seattle and Snoqualmie Valley have begun offering Covid-19 vaccination clinics for students who are eligible for the shots. In King County, most public school districts have reported confirmed Covid cases among less than 1% of their student populations, according to an analysis KUOW did of publicly reported data.

Bogan said that while the county has limited data about Covid transmission within individual schools, many of the schools and childcare facilities reporting confirmed cases to the county are reporting between one and three cases at a time — but those cases may not be necessarily linked. The most cases any school has reported at one time is five, Bogan added. And as of October 4, the county had investigated nine school-based outbreaks since schools resumed full-time in-person learning.

Data publicly reported by school districts collectively points toward more Covid transmission occurring out in the community for kids rather than in school settings. Per county guidelines, a school-based outbreak is defined as “2 or more cases linked to the facility with epidemiologic link in a non-household setting.”

Bogan said that King County hasn’t specifically analyzed where schools have and haven’t had success with transmission mitigation strategies, although it offers them guidance. But she shared anecdotal accounts of the challenges schools have faced amid the return to in-person learning.

“Maintaining physical distancing among kids can be a challenge and is not always feasible based on the number of students and physical spaces in a school,” she said. “Some schools also report challenges ensuring masks fit children well and are worn properly.”

Bogan added that some schools have cited operational challenges, “such as identifying who may have been in close contact with the known case and notification of those contacts. We’ve heard that schools have challenges figuring out how to keep education going once students are in quarantine.”

Citing the high volume of Covid case reports Public Health is receiving, Bogan said the county is prioritizing investigations at schools involving three or more cases at a time, in addition to cases occurring in K-8 schools, where most students are under 12 years old, the current minimum age of eligibility for a Covid-19 shot.

The Pfizer Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is expected to become available to children between the ages of 5 and 11 before the end of the year. In King County, that subgroup of youth currently has the highest Covid infection rate among kids.