Although COVID-19 often has the most serious health effects on older people, record-high COVID infections in the past month and a half have had a pronounced impact on the valley’s youngest residents.
At Little Star School, the past month has been the most difficult in the 18 months they’ve been caring for children during the pandemic, Executive Director Dani Reynaud said.
By nature, infants, toddlers and preschoolers can’t effectively socially distance, so COVID quarantines affect many more children in an early-learning setting than in a K-12 setting, she said.
In September, that translated into a quarantine of the majority — 75 out of 118 — of Little Star students as a precaution at some point in the month, after investigators determined there was a risk from a close contact with a COVID case, Reynaud said.
These quarantines reverberate throughout the community. They create hardships for families who are trying to work and also for Little Star, since the school refunds tuition for missed days, Reynaud said.
Most federal COVID relief funds, which helped Little Star pay teachers last year, have now expired. Little Star is still waiting to see if there is additional funding for childcare in the American Rescue Plan Act.
Reynaud is hopeful that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may soon approve a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, but that still leaves most of their student body unprotected, meaning quarantines will remain a fact of life for the foreseeable future.
School sports cancelations
COVID cases have also complicated sports and extra-curricular activities at Liberty Bell High School, where games have had to be canceled because of COVID cases or exposures, Activities Director Michael Wilbur said.
When a player tests positive, the school nurse works with students and coaches to determine who might be a close contact so that those individuals can quarantine, Wilbur said. Sometimes this means that there aren’t enough players to field a team.
Still, careful protocols have meant that the school has been able to minimize the number of cases among student athletes, preventing an outbreak — and allowing the school to continue with educational programming, athletic events and after-school activities, he said.
The school is following protocols established by the Washington Department of Health for interscholastic sports, which include free daily voluntary testing, Wilbur said.
The school is also finding ways to provide performing-arts activities for students, including last week’s Poetry Out Loud contest and an upcoming drama performance in December. Musicians at Liberty Bell High School are playing in several ensembles, including a new pep band this year.
Okanogan County cases
Okanogan County Public Health reported 190 new COVID infections in the week ending Oct. 10. Sixteen of the cases were in Twisp, nine in Winthrop, and six in Carlton.
This is the first time new cases in a week have dropped below 200 since Aug. 22.
The two-week incidence rate per 100,000 population as of Oct. 7 was 1,027, with the rate at 2,002 for unvaccinated individuals and 190 for vaccinated people, according to Public Health.
The number of people fully vaccinated in the county is continuing to rise. As of Oct. 6, 54.1% were vaccinated, up by half a percentage point from the start of the month.
Free vaccines are available at clinics and hospitals around the county. See okanogancountycovid19.org/covid-19-vaccine for a schedule and other information.