Downward trend in Pierce County COVID-19 cases could mean return to in-person learning

VIDEO: Downward trend in Pierce County COVID-19 cases could mean return to in-person learning

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Students and families in Tacoma and other school districts are picking up laptops and getting ready for an all-remote online school year. But that could soon change for some children if coronavirus cases in Pierce County keep dropping.

The latest reports from the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department show a downward trend that is bringing the county close to reaching 75 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period. That is the threshold to begin returning elementary school students back into classrooms.

“We are within striking distance,” said Dr. Anthony Chen, director of the health department.

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The health department reported 23 new cases on Monday, 30 on Tuesday, and 44 on Wednesday. But Chen said that downward trend has to last at least two weeks.

“We want to get students back to school for in-person learning, but we also want to get businesses reopen with it’s safe,” said Chen.

And the return to the classroom will be a very different experience for students and teachers.

“We will shift from our remote learning platform to a hybrid model,” said Tacoma Public Schools spokesperson Dan Voelpel.

Voelpel said the district will soon meet with health department officials to figure out what classrooms will look like and how to keep students and teachers safe.

“All staff members and students that come to school would need to wear masks, but we also would need to set up our classrooms to keep the students social distance,” he said.

Parents have mixed feelings about the possibility that in-class learning could become a reality.

“I think everybody should be back in school,” said Joseph Morris, the parent of a Jason Lee Middle School student. “I think all this it B.S. to me. I don’t think it’s really an epidemic going on.”

Christina Kindt, whose daughter attends Jason Lee feels very differently. “I’m a substitute teacher, as well as the parent of four Tacoma students, and I’m just nervous. That’s still a lot of bodies interacting with each other in a closed environment.”

Voelpel said if the move back to in-person learning happens, it will start with elementary school students who will be confined to a single classroom and cohorts of children and teachers to limit exposure. If that works, the plan will expand to include middle schools and high schools.