Pandemic blog: Schools respond to Omicron surge
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
According to data from King County and Washington state departments of health, as of Wednesday, January 12, 2021:
- +5,248 new cases since Tuesday in King County. That's +109% over the last seven days.
- +48 new hospitalizations since Tuesday in King County. That's a 102% increase over the past seven days.
- 74% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
- 10,103 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1.1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12
Boosters appear to be working. Will we need more?
As new coronavirus variants have emerged, concerns also arise as to vaccine effectiveness and and the virus' ability to evade immunity. But real world data appears to be showing that staying up-to-date on vaccines and getting booster shots is working well. Despite breakthrough infections, the vast majority of people who have been vaccinated are staying out of the hospital.
“There's data that initially was generated from Israel, but subsequently from other countries as well, that an additional boost — so a third dose of the vaccine several months after the first two — does provide substantial additional protection,” said Dr. Anna Wald.
Wald is a clinical virologist and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She also directs the UW Medicine Virology Research Clinic at Harborview Medical Center. Wald recently discussed booster shots in an article on JAMA.
Booster shots are recommended, especially for people who are at higher risk. A fourth vaccine dose, five months after the third shot, is also being recommended by the CDC for people with weakened immune systems. Wald explains that this group often does not produce a significant response to vaccines, therefore, an additional dose could benefit them.
As for everybody else...
Antibodies do appear to wane over time. Booster shots help maintain the immune response. Currently, a third shot of mRNA vaccines is recommended. For those who received a Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, a booster of an mRNA vaccine is recommended two months after the initial shot.
What about a fourth shot?
Dr. Wald says data is not ready to determine if a fourth shot is needed. But that could change.
"I'm hoping that if we do need more, the product that we are getting will actually be different and offer broader protection, and not just be more of the same," Wald said. "It is also possible that the boosters, a third dose for most people, will actually provide pretty good and long-lasting protection."
— Dyer Oxley
Ballard High School will stop sending out classroom-based notifications
Staff at Ballard High School will no longer notify parents when their teen shares the classroom with someone Covid-positive, according to a text message sent to school families Wednesday.
The decision was due to a high incidence of positive cases at the high school, according to the text message. However, contact tracing will still happen, and if it indicates that a student should be tested or quarantined, they'll be notified.
"In the meantime, we encourage you to keep observing CDC guidelines in regard to masking up and social distancing," the text message says.
The high school is providing testing, booster shots, and vaccines for staff and students.
— Ashley Hiruko
Schools shifting to remote learning and/or cancelling classes
More schools are making changes due to Covid-related staffing shortages amid the surge in Omicron cases across Washington state.
Lowell Elementary School on Capitol Hill will shift to remote learning for at least five days. The school, which primarily serves students of color, had 42% of its students out on Tuesday, and many staff members have been out sick, too.
It's the first Seattle Public School location to go remote since schools re-opened in September.
Kimball Elementary School in Seattle is canceled for a third straight day due to low staffing.
Eastlake High School in Sammamish is shifting to remote learning until January 20, joining Redmond, Juanita and Lake Washington High Schools in that move.
— Paige Browning
TUESDAY, JANUARY 11
UW Medicine implements travel restrictions
According to a message sent to the UW Medicine community on Monday:
"Due to the significant increase in COVID-19 cases locally and nationally, we are re-implementing work-related travel restrictions for all UW Medicine employees in order to preserve our workforce and continue to serve our patients and community."
The travel restrictions started Monday, Jan. 10 and are in place "until further notice." Employees are asked not to attend conferences and other events.
The university further asks staff to "reconsider invitations for non-UW individuals to visit UW Medicine, including invites for interviews, speaking engagements, and other meetings and gatherings."
Virtual attendance at events is encouraged. Non-essential personal travel is discouraged.
— Dyer Oxley
MONDAY, JANUARY 10
2 Washington state senators test positive for Covid on eve of session
As the legislative sessions began Monday, at least two members of the Legislature are had tested positive for Covid-19.
They include Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat and Senator John Lovick of Mill Creek, also a Democrat.
In statements, both said they are fully vaccinated, have gotten their boosters and are experiencing mild symptoms.
“I am grateful to have been vaccinated and boosted, which I know has prevented me from having any significant symptoms," Billig said.
The senators will still be able to participate in the opening week of the session remotely. In fact, that's how most lawmakers will participate — at least to start — because of the current omicron-driven surge.
— Derek Wang
Covid staffing forces Lake Washington High School online
It's back to online learning for students at Lake Washington High School.
The district announced the shift will last through at least January 18, in part because the school is dealing with so many Covid-related staffing shortages.
The decision was made at the district level, considering pandemic conditions, according to a letter to parents from Dr. John Holmen, superintendent of the Lake Washington School District.
"To be clear, this is not a case where the health department is dictating closure due to an on-campus outbreak. This decision is being made by our district due to our inability to safely operate school as a result of so many staff being absent and the number of unfilled sub positions."
Dr. Holmen also said that the goal is maintain in-person learning, but there are currently too many absences for the district to cover. In the meantime, affected staff will be in quarantine.
— Angela King
Seattle elementary school cancels classes
No in-person or online learning Tuesday for students at Seattle's Kimball Elementary.
Staff at the elementary threatened to hold a sick out Tuesday because they said they can't handle all of the students while so many of their colleagues are absent due to Covid.
They did call on the district to switch to online learning until the pandemic situation improves, but the district decided to cancel classes so administrators can figure out what to do next.
The pandemic has led to current staffing shortages throughout Western Washington, causing substitutes to be in short supply. Some schools have resorted to sending students to the gym or auditorium if they don't have a teacher.
— Ann Dornfeld
UW offers online and in-person classes in light of Omicron
Some UW Students are back in class Tuesday after starting the winter quarter online last week.
Rising Covid cases prompted the online start. Now, the university of Washington says that it will give instructors the option to continue teaching on line through January 28. If they do hold in-person classes, they also have to offer an online option.
Over at Washington State University has had to cancel classes Tuesday and Wednesday, because of heavy snow. It will return to its regular schedule after that.
— Angela King
New vaccine clinic opens in Seattle
The city of Seattle and Virginia Mason opened a new Covid vaccination clinic Tuesday.
The new vaccination site is located at Virginia Mason's Health and Resources building (909 University Street, Seattle)
The new site will be open Mondays and Tuesdays between 1-5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be providing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The plan is to administer up to 1,000 vaccine doses there every day.
The city says it's also expanding its mobile vaccination capacity through pop-up clinics with the Othello Pharmacy.
Keep in mind, you can also get vaccinated at the Rainier Beach and West Seattle locations, if you can find an open appointment.
— Angela King