School district closes over virus concerns; more cases in WA
| March 5, 2020 12:05 PM
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A school district north of Seattle with 22,000 students will close for up to two weeks because of coronavirus concerns and state officials issued an order to waive fees for virus testing.
Authorities said Thursday there at least 70 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, up from 39 on Wednesday. Eleven people have died.
One case has been reported in rural Grant Count in central Washington. The rest are in the Seattle area.
Vice President Mike Pence plans to meet Thursday with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other state officials about the response to the virus during a visit to the state.
Washington’s insurance commissioner has issued an order requiring health insurers in the state to not charge copays or deductibles for people who require testing for the coronavirus. Commissioner Mike Kreidler made the announcement at a Thursday news conference. Inslee also announced that the state will cover the costs of tests for those who are uninsured, but whose doctors believe they need testing.
Authorities also say people who have to see an out of network provider would have that visit covered as if it was within their insurance plan. The order is effective until May 4.
All of the schools in the Northshore School District will be closed for up to two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect vulnerable staff members, the district's superintendent said Wednesday evening in a letter to parents. They plan to teach students online.
Northshore School District superintendent Michelle Reid said all of the 26 schools in the district will be shuttered while officials monitor the situation and listen to the health department for more recommendations.
Reid said she made the decision after learning of more people in the region testing positive, including a parent volunteer at Woodmoore Elementary School who tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are receiving numerous calls and emails from parents and staff who are self-quarantining or are choosing to keep their students home. Today, our absentee rate for students districtwide was 20 percent," Reid said.
Inslee said Thursday that he is deferring the decision to close schools across the state of Washington to school administrators, but that could change at any time.
“For those who have wondered why I have not made that decision today it is because we are still evaluating the efficacy of that,” he said. “We’re also weighing this against the needs for childcare. It is profoundly a challenge for families already.”
Inslee encouraged schools to explore the possibility of online teaching methods while they weigh the risks of sending children to their schools.
Seattle area schools were mulling teaching students online in the event of prolonged closures over health concerns. The schools took the steps after researchers said the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19 may have been circulating for weeks undetected in the state.
Some students and parents started petitions asking districts to close their campuses.
Ken Finlayson said his 14-year-old son started a petition asking the Lake Washington School District to close their schools, which are located in Kirkland and near the nursing home that’s been the epicenter of the outbreak. By early Thursday, more than 18,500 people had signed the petition.
State and regional health officials have not recommended closing schools. They say children are unlikely to get very sick if they get COVID-19.
But Finlayson said the children may bring the virus home to people who are vulnerable, including infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
“My wife is severely disabled – she’s a non-verbal quadriplegic,” he said. “He may bring the virus home to his mother, who may die.”
Finlayson said if school officials want to ensure all students have equal access to learning, they could open a few labs or classrooms for those students, while holding online classes.
More than 20 schools in the Puget Sound area have closed for at least a day for cleaning prompted by coronavirus concerns, according to the Washington superintendent of public instruction.
Seattle Public Schools has so far said the district would not close, but it was monitoring the situation.
Inslee also said the state would make sure health care workers and first responders exposed to COVID-19 had workers’ compensation protections. The state was changing police for those workers who have to be quarantined so they receive benefits during the quarantine after exposure to the virus.
“These health care workers and first responders are protecting our communities,” Inslee said.
La Corte reported from Olympia, Wash.