Coronavirus — national emergency and statewide school closures

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the San Juan Islands as of March 13, according to public health officials. Fourteen people have been tested, five have received negative results and nine tests are pending.

A rapidly evolving story across the nation, President Donald Trump announced a national state of emergency regarding the coronavirus outbreak on the afternoon of March 13.

Earlier that day, San Juan County Council held a special meeting to also announce a state of emergency within the county —opening it up to increased state and federal funding regarding the outbreak response.

“We fully continue to expect at some point in time we will have COVID-19 here in San Juan County,” San Juan County Department of Emergency Management Director Brendan Cowan said. “We’re being proactive with this anticipating there’s a lot of work to be done. And we have a little chance here — a little window — to do this before things become a little more complicated in the weeks to come.”

Schools close

Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Friday, March 13, that all K-12 schools in the state of Washington will be closed until at least April 24. Less than an hour before Inslee’s announcement Trump’s national state of the emergency announcement.

Lopez Island School District announced on March 12 that it would be closed the week of March 16-20 to, “assess the growing coronavirus situation, do contingency planning, and in this current moment of uncertainty not have children in a school setting and in contact with larger groups of fellow students and school staff.” The date was later moved up to include March 13 because a non-teacher district employee was under suspicion of having COVID-19.

Lopez Island School District said the following in a press release regarding its decision to close:

“The step to close school was taken after consultation with the San Juan County Health Department. Because students come in contact with many classmates, teachers and staff in the course of a school day, and are also in contact with surfaces touched by others, schools are particularly effective at spreading infectious disease.

Leadership, faculty, and staff felt that with the exponential expansion of infection in Puget Sound that waiting until a child or staff was diagnosed with COVID19 would be too late, as that sick person could expose many others in a crowded school setting.

While at the time this decision was made on Thursday, March 12, there were no confirmed cases of COVID19 in San Juan County, there had already been confirmed cases in all of the neighboring counties: Watcom, Skagit and Island. Because individuals are only tested when they show symptoms, and also because symptoms take several days to appear after infection, there is a significant chance that the virus is here, as yet detected.

Although this virus presents much milder symptoms in children, according to health professionals closing schools will create a significant cut in the peak number of ultimate infections and is a key tool in reducing the rapid expansion of new cases. For this reason, on Thursday, March 12 Governor Inslee announced the closure of all school districts in King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties, through April 24.

Shutting down the school for a week will also allow Lopez School to put in place televideo learning and extended learning options. Lopez School is also planning to provide nutrition services to students who rely on school meals if the closure extends beyond next week.

The school is aware that closing the school creates significant disruption to the plans of families. We are taking this extraordinary measure because the pandemic has reached a tipping point where the virus is growing rapidly in the Puget Sound.

Lopez Island School District greatly appreciates the understanding and support of everyone in the community as we work together to check the expansion of this virus and do all we can to protect the vulnerable members of our community.”