CORRECTED: COVID-19 School Updates. Oct 1, 2020

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School Updates

Recent COVID-19 guidance

Important information was missing from the previous version. Please read this update.

Schools Digest: Special Edition.

Providing you the notice you requested.

We are concerned about the recent upward trend of Pierce County’s COVID-19 14-day case rate, which was at 59.3 per 100,000 population (including a 6-day lag) on Sept. 30. The rate has increased 13 out of the past 14 days (see figure 1). If this same pattern continues, we expect the rate to go above 75 per 100,000, with the 6-day data lag, sometime next week. If we surpass that threshold, Pierce County will move back into the “High” category of the COVID-19 Activity Level per the Department of Health’s Decision Tree for the Provision of In Person Learning.

A chart showing an increase in the COVID-19 14-day case rate in Pierce County (with 6-day lag).

Figure 1: Estimated COVID-19 14-day case rate trend in Pierce County (with 6-day lag)

Blue line: Lowest estimated case rate. Red line: Highest estimated case rate. Purple line: Actual case rate. These timelines are only estimates and could change if, for example, case counts rise.

Based on current trends, we estimate case rates will fall within these boundaries. If the actual case rate (purple line) crosses the red line for several days, the COVID-19 rate is not declining as much or as fast as we expected. We would then work with schools to learn whether their re-opening plans contributed to the trend.

If the purple line crosses the blue line, the COVID-19 rate is decreasing more than expected. If the purple line stays between the red and blue lines, the COVID-19 rate is following the estimated trend. In both cases, schools can continue with opening plans.

As previously discussed with a small group of public and private school leaders, the Health Department will take the lead to guide schools to return to remote learning if the COVID-19 case rate moves into and consistently stays in the "High" category. Using the 6-day data lag helps us to determine these types of trends. We heard you ask repeatedly for 2 to 3 weeks of advance notice to allow schools to plan for this outcome. The current trend of COVID-19 cases is an early indicator that we will ask schools to return to remote learning. We encourage you to begin your planning now for how this transition will occur for your school(s) and in the interim, pause bringing back additional students for in-person learning. 

We will continue to closely watch the case rate and other metrics to determine when to issue our recommendation that schools stop in-person learning, but the school district or private school will make the final decision. Students designated as high need individuals can continue to have in-person instruction in small groups even during the High COVID-19 Activity Level.

Percent of positives and hospitalizations are also concerning trends.

In addition to 14-day case rate, we monitor two other metrics to determine the safety of in-person learning at the K-12 level:

  • Percent of positive COVID-19 tests. Pierce County’s test positivity has been under 5% from early August through mid-September. The trend is generally downward, although the most current week of data showed an uptick.
  • Percent of hospital beds with COVID-19 patients. One reason for schools to follow a cautious, phased-in approach to in-person learning is to prevent overwhelming our local health care systems with new COVID-19 patients. While the percent of COVID-19 beds increased from about 4% in mid-August to about 5% currently, the levels are still within an acceptable range. We will continue to work closely with our health system partners to monitor and respond to any additional increases.

We will continue to provide support and guidance to schools during COVID-19.

  • We recently developed an online portal to report a COVID-19 case in a school, making it easier and more convenient for school officials to share information with us.
  • To help you communicate to families about information you need to share with the Health Department in the event of COVID-19 positive cases that may occur during in-person learning, we are working on a letter you can provide to families. We will add this letter to the Schools COVID-19 case response tool kit.
  • Please share the message to mask up, stay 6 feet apart, and stay home if you are not feeling well. It’s also a good time to get your flu shot. Find more information and locations at
  • These simple actions will help our students return for in-person learning.