February 16. That's the day Yakima Health District officials are recommending a phased in implementation of hybrid learning at high schools in Yakima County. In a letter to Yakima County School Administrators health officials say they've been monitoring COVID-19 activity in the county and while they still believe there's a risk but they say "the combination of strict masking and social distancing policies, an efficient outbreak response team and case investigation team at the Yakima Health District, and a history of successful local practices does indicate the possibility of a safe return to in-person learning."  Because of the risk health officials say they can't support a full return to in-person learning so they've looked at alternatives. One of the alternatives is hybrid learning. They say it will allow schools to "group or “pod” students to provide health screenings, manage mask requirements, handwashing protocols, and provide for and enforce social distancing requirements."  

In the letter to administrators Yakima health officials say using a hybrid learning model isn't expected to pose any more risk to staff and students than the current activities.

So now that the district has made a recommendation it'll be up to area school districts to make the final decision about in person school in the future. The letter from the health district makes it clear that students need to be back in the classroom as soon as possible.

"We cannot continue to allow our students to become increasingly disengaged with their educational attainment. We cannot continue to allow some of the students to suffer due to inequities such as access to Wi-Fi, accessibility of a breakfast and lunch, and the inability to benefit from the structure that a school day provides. Schools are a source for nutrition, for monitoring the well-being of children, and for supporting social and emotional development. While schools are doing the best they can to continue to serve the students and families, we know it is not as accessible as in-person learning will provide.

Specifically, in Yakima County, the Yakima Health District believes that there are several unique circumstances that will help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread at schools. •Yakima County school districts have demonstrated in-depth plans for a safe return to in-person learning that highlight strict mask policies, social distancing, ample hand washing opportunities, quick identification of close contacts and testing.

•Frequent communication between the Yakima Health District, the school superintendents, and the school nurses.

•Yakima Health District’s efficient and reliable contact tracing procedures to identify close contacts of positive cases

•Yakima Health District’s ability to double the capacity of the Outbreak Response Team to quickly respond to potential outbreaks.

•A history of working with school districts who have successfully implemented hybrid learning models without significantly increasing disease activity within the schools."