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.