New insight into COVID-19 outbreaks at Washington state schools

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has released the latest report on COVID-19 outbreaks in K-12 schools across the state, which covers the start of the 2021/2022 school year. The report includes data on both public and private schools that experienced a COVID-19 outbreak between August 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021.

Notable data from the report:

  • 189 COVID‐19 outbreaks occurred in K‐12 schools. Of those, 42 occurred in August and 147 occurred during September.
  • The median size of an outbreak was 5 individuals.
  • Approximately 6% of all schools experienced an outbreak since the beginning of the school year.
  • 167 Outbreaks occurred in public schools and 22 occurred in private schools.
  • 120 were associated with grade schools, 48 with middle schools, and 55 in high schools.
  • A total of 1,284 COVID-19 cases were associated with outbreaks in K‐12 schools. The median age was 12.
  • 18 counties total reported COVID-19 outbreaks associated with schools.

“While we never want to see an outbreak occur in a school setting, the relatively small size of outbreaks is an indication that schools are working very hard to respond when there are cases among students, teachers, and staff,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, MPH, Deputy Secretary of Health, COVID-19 Response. “Getting young children vaccinated as soon as we are able will add the strongest protection possible. Everyone who is able to get vaccinated should do so now to offer protection to young kids who are not yet eligible.”

It’s important to note that DOH updated the school outbreak definition for the 2021/2022 school year. For the previous school year, the case count threshold to meet outbreak definition was two epidemiologically linked cases. For this school year, the threshold has been raised to 3 cases or 10% of a specified core group as defined in the K-12 School Outbreak Report.

This change was made to bring DOH in alignment with national standards based on the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) definition. The cases reported are epidemiologically linked to a school setting or a school-sanctioned extracurricular activity.

The most current COVID-19 resources for K-12 schools and child care are available at https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/ResourcesandRecommendations.

Tips for a Safer Holiday Season

With Halloween and other holidays fast approaching, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) wants to remind people about ways to enjoy the holidays while still protecting themselves, their loved ones and their community from the spread of COVID-19.

Tips for a safer holiday season:

  • Get vaccinated to protect yourself and others not yet eligible (such as young children) from COVID-19.
  • Wear a cloth face covering or mask anytime you are with people from outside your household, whether indoors or outside.
    • Make sure face coverings or masks fit snugly and cover your mouth and nose.
    • Even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask when indoors or in crowded outdoor spaces.
  • Avoid crowded or confined spaces. Outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities. If you’re inside, make sure to have proper ventilation, and open doors and windows when possible.
  • Watch distance and limit close contact with people outside of your household. Where possible stay six feet apart and keep closer contact brief, especially among people at high risk for severe COVID-19 or are not fully vaccinated.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands (and the hands of little ones) often.
  • Stay home if you are sick or were recently exposed to COVID-19. If you have symptoms or you’ve been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19, get tested.
  • If you are planning to travel visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel page for up-to-date guidance on domestic and international travel and other travel recommendation. CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.
  • To learn more about safer ways to celebrate the holidays visit the CDC’s holiday celebrations web page.

“We know that holiday traditions are important to children and families and there are ways that we can enjoy the holidays, while reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19”, said Lacy Fehrenbach, Deputy Secretary for the COVID-19 response. “By using these simple holiday safety tips, we all can have fun and connect with loved ones during the holidays, while protecting the health and well-being of ourselves, our family and friends, and members of the communities where we live.”

 If your Halloween plans include trick or treating, remember these simple safety tips.

  • Stick with members of your own household and distance from others when in crowded indoor and outdoor spaces.
  • Wear a cloth mask and remember: a plastic costume mask is not a suitable substitute.
  • Wash your hands before and after trick-or-treating.
  • Bring plenty of hand sanitizer

If you give out treats:

  • Limit candy to individually wrapped treat bags. This reduces the number of people who would typically touch items in a communal
  • To avoid crowding, place treats on a table in your driveway or yard.
  • Place a few mini pumpkins or other decorations 6 feet apart to signal a line and keep trick- or-treaters distanced while waiting for

For more information on how you can enjoy the holiday season while minimizing the risk of COVID-19, visit the DOH tips for safer gatherings page. Also, remember to check in with your local health jurisdiction as they may have additional guidance or requirements for celebrating Halloween and other holidays safely this year.

Scientists Search for Cause of Mysterious Covid-Related Inflammation in Children

Like most other kids with covid, Dante and Michael DeMaino seemed to have no serious symptoms.

Infected in mid-February, both lost their senses of taste and smell. Dante, 9, had a low-grade fever for a day or so. Michael, 13, had a “tickle in his throat,” said their mother, Michele DeMaino, of Danvers, Massachusetts.

At a follow-up appointment, “the pediatrician checked their hearts, their lungs, and everything sounded perfect,” DeMaino said.

Then, in late March, Dante developed another fever. After examining him, Dante’s doctor said his illness was likely “nothing to worry about” but told DeMaino to take him to the emergency room if his fever climbed above 104.

Two days later, Dante remained feverish, with a headache, and began throwing up. His mother took him to the ER, where his fever spiked to 104.5. In the hospital, Dante’s eyes became puffy, his eyelids turned red, his hands began to swell and a bright red rash spread across his body.

Hospital staffers diagnosed Dante with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a rare but life-threatening complication of covid-19 in which a hyperactive immune system attacks a child’s body. Symptoms — fever, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, bloodshot eyes, rash and dizziness — typically appear two to six weeks after what is usually a mild or even asymptomatic infection.

Read the full article from KHN.

Executive Order on White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans

The Initiative shall advance educational equity and economic opportunity for Black students, families, and communities by focusing on the following policy goals:
(i)     increasing general understanding of systemic causes of educational challenges faced by many Black students, whether these students are in urban, suburban, rural, or migrant learning environments, and working across executive departments and agencies (agencies) to address these challenges;
(ii)    increasing Black children’s and families’ access to and participation in high-quality early childhood programs and services that promote children’s healthy development and learning, prepare them for success in school, and affirm their cultural identity;
(iii)   addressing the inequitable treatment of Black children, such as eradicating discriminatory referrals to special education and excessive disciplinary actions;
(iv)    supporting and improving data collection related to Black students and the implementation of evidence-based strategies to increase the participation and success of Black students in all levels of education and prepare them for careers and civic engagement;
(v)     ensuring that all Black students have access to excellent teachers, school leaders, and other professionals, including by supporting efforts to improve the recruitment, preparation, development, and retention of qualified, diverse teachers and school leaders and other professionals who understand students’ lived experiences and can effectively meet their learning, social, and emotional needs;
(vi)    enhancing student support services and fostering positive engagement among schools, families, community leaders, and community-based organizations to increase the high school graduation and post-secondary attendance rates and decrease the high school dropout rate for Black students;
(vii)   promoting a positive school climate that supports equitable access to and participation in college-readiness, advanced placement courses, and internship opportunities, as well as innovative dropout prevention and recovery strategies that better engage Black youth in their learning, help them progress academically as needed, and provide those who have left the educational system with pathways to reentry;
(viii)  eliminating discriminatory enrollment, housing, transportation, and other policies that lead to racial and socioeconomic segregation among and within schools;
(ix)    ensuring equitable access to educational resources, professionals, and technology, including by addressing racial disparities in school funding and expenditures;
(x)     breaking down barriers that impede the access of higher education institutions that serve Black students, such as Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), to Federal funding, and strengthening the capacity of those institutions to participate in Federal programs and partnerships;
(xi)    advancing racial equity and economic opportunity by connecting education to labor market needs through programs such as dual enrollment, career and technical education, registered apprenticeships, work-based learning, and career advancement, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and
(xii)   ensuring that Black communities have access to resources for economic success, such as in the areas of financial education, small business development, entrepreneurship, arts, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In working to fulfill its mission and objectives, the Initiative shall, consistent with applicable law:
(i)    identify and promote evidence-based best practices that can provide Black students with a rigorous and well-rounded education in safe and healthy environments, as well as access to support services, that will improve their educational, professional, economic, and civic opportunities;
(ii)   advance and coordinate efforts to ensure equitable opportunities for Black students in the re-opening process for schools across the country, and take steps to ensure that Black students, from early childhood to post-secondary education, can equitably recover from learning losses and other challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic;
(iii)  encourage and develop partnerships with a national network of early childhood and early intervention providers, schools, institutions of higher education, and other public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit stakeholders to improve access to educational equity and economic opportunities for Black Americans;
(iv)   monitor and support the development, implementation, and coordination of Federal Government educational, workforce, research, and business development policies, programs, and technical assistance designed to improve outcomes for historically underserved communities, including Black Americans;
(v)    work closely with the Executive Office of the President on key Administration priorities related to education, equity, and economic opportunity for Black Americans; and
(vi)   advise the Secretary on issues of importance to Black Americans and policies relating to educational equity, excellence, and economic opportunity for Black Americans.

 

EPA unveils strategy to regulate toxic ‘forever chemicals’

The Biden administration said Monday it is launching a broad strategy to regulate toxic industrial compounds associated with serious health conditions that are used in products ranging from cookware to carpets and firefighting foams.

Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency is taking a series of actions to limit pollution from a cluster of long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS that are increasingly turning up in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food.

The Defense Department said it is moving to assess and clean up PFAS-contaminated sites throughout the country, while the Food and Drug Administration will expand testing of the food supply to estimate Americans’ exposure to PFAS from food. And the Agriculture Department will boost efforts to prevent and address PFAS contamination in food.

Read the full article from AP.

FDA advisory panel votes 19-0 to endorse booster dose of J&J vaccine

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted Friday that booster shots should be made available to people who have received the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

Unlike the authorizations for boosters for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, no restrictions were put on the J&J booster. The panel effectively said that the J&J vaccine, like the other vaccines, requires two doses to be effective.

After sometimes heated discussion, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted 19 to 0 that anyone who received the J&J vaccine should be offered a second dose.

“I think this frankly was always a two-dose vaccine,” Paul Offit, a researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said at the meeting. “It’s hard to recommend this as one dose vaccine.”

But panelists were also critical of data suggesting that the vaccine be given as a booster dose at six months, saying the data came from only 17 patients. However, they said they would not want to deny boosters to anyone who had not yet received one.

“If the vaccine isn’t adequate, then it should be boosted in everybody,” said Eric Rubin editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. “I’m not sure why you’re asking for an indication that would apply to millions of patients with a data set that includes 17 patients.”

Read the full article from STATNews

Free Online Courses for Infant & Early Childhood Care Providers on Social-Emotional Competence

The courses were designed using the evidence-based Pyramid Model for Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children which promotes and supports infant and early childhood mental health and the social emotional development of all children.

Course Titles

  • Building Relationships and Creating Supportive Environments
  • Social and Emotional Assessment and Targeted Social Emotional Strategies
  • Intensive Interventions

The courses were designed using the evidence-based Pyramid Model for Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children which promotes and supports infant and early childhood mental health and the social emotional development of all children. As reflected in these three courses, the Pyramid Model takes a tiered public health approach to providing universal supports to all children to develop social emotional skills, targeted supports to those at risk, and intensive interventions for those who need them. All supported by an effective workforce, receiving training and coaching to support these practices in their settings. These self-paced interactive courses are rich with user-friendly training materials, videos, and print resources.

The first course, Building Relationships and Creating Supportive Environments, introduces the Pyramid Model, explores the relationship between challenging behavior and social emotional development, examines our attitudes about challenging behavior, and builds positive relationships between children and families. Adults interacting with children in a range of settings within diverse disciplines, including early intervention providers, early educators, families, and other professionals, gain new insight to the meaning behind challenging behavior and how to address it appropriately.

The second course, Social and Emotional Assessment and Targeted Social Emotional Strategies, provides information on implementing effective social emotional teaching strategies within the classroom. These strategies help infants and toddlers learn to express emotions appropriately, solve problems, and build friendships. Participants learn why teaching social emotional skills is important, when it is appropriate, which skills to teach, and how to teach them.

The last course in the series, Intensive Interventions, provides information on implementing individualized interventions for children who do not respond to regular intervention strategies implemented in the classroom. Most children will not need this level of support although some children need extra attention and individualized plans to support them to acquire the skills of self-regulation and positive peer and adult interaction. Participants learn to identify the functions of challenging behavior, how family trauma can impact a child’s expression of behavior, how to implement a behavior support plan, and how to support their team through the Pyramid Model during these scenarios in their classroom.

More than 120,000 US kids had caregivers die during pandemic

NEW YORK (AP) — The number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.

More than half the children who lost a primary caregiver during the pandemic belonged to those two racial groups, which make up about 40% of the U.S. population, according to the study published Thursday by the medical journal Pediatrics.

“These findings really highlight those children who have been left most vulnerable by the pandemic, and where additional resources should be directed,” one of the study’s authors, Dr. Alexandra Blenkinsop of Imperial College London, said in a statement.

Read the full article from AP.

New research confirms hospitalization risk higher with four COVID-19 variants

People in Washington state infected with Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants have a higher risk of hospitalization compared to those infected with non-variant versions of SARS-CoV-2, according to new research from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), in collaboration with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Institute for Disease Modeling at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and and UW Medicine Virology Lab. The variants Gamma and Beta have the highest estimated risk for hospitalization.

Additional research was conducted to examine the risk of hospitalization among people infected with these variants who were vaccinated and those who were unvaccinated. Overall, they found that people infected with Alpha, Beta, Gamma or Delta variants who were vaccinated had a lower risk of hospitalization.

When researchers looked at the variants separately, the same pattern of a lower risk of hospitalization for vaccinated people was seen in people infected with the Alpha, Gamma, or Delta variants. The Beta variant was excluded from this analysis due to the low number of Beta infections.

The study has been published on medRxiv, a free online archive and distribution server for unpublished manuscripts (preprints) in the medical, clinical, and related health sciences that have not yet been peer reviewed.