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Washington state eyes reopening schools no matter the rate of COVID-19 infections

Washington state eyes reopening schools no matter the rate of COVID-19 infections
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Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Thousands of troops dig in for inauguration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Nine, including former Michigan governor, charged over Flint water crisis | Regulator finalizes rule forcing banks to serve oil, gun companies | Trump admin adds hurdle to increase efficiency standards for furnaces, water heaters MORE (D) on Wednesday released updated plans for returning to in-person learning at schools across the state, regardless of a community’s COVID-19 infection rates. 

"I know some would have liked to see this sooner, but we have data and research now that we did not have six months ago," Inslee said during a press briefing Wednesday, where he was joined by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, as well as other education and health leaders.

In the new guidance, Inslee said that all students can return to in-person learning when COVID-19 cases represent less than 50 per 100,000 residents. If cases are greater than 50 but less than 350, school districts can begin a phased reopening starting with elementary and middle schools. 

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The guidelines state that for areas with more than 350 per 100,000, elementary school students and “those with highest needs,” including students with disabilities or those experiencing homelessness, should be prioritized and allowed to return to school in groups of 15 or fewer. 

Inslee also outlined the recommendations on Twitter, writing, “It’s time to begin getting kids back into classrooms.”

“It takes strong safety measures. It will take time,” the Democratic governor added.

Inslee also said that he will be directing $3 million in CARES Act funding “to support safety planning in school districts - especially those who need help meeting these requirements.”

Among the governor’s proposed health and safety measures in schools are symptom screening, social distancing and face coverings, as well as increased hand hygiene, cleaning and ventilation. 

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The proposed measures mark a change from other Democratic administrations across the country, which have more prominently opted for more restrictions at schools and businesses, especially amid a recent surge in cases.

Last month, Inslee announced the implementation of four-week restrictions on certain businesses and activities, including restaurants only allowed to have outdoor service and parties limited to five or less people. Gyms, theaters and museums were ordered to shut down completely. 

The Seattle Times noted that the measures were the most extreme action Inslee had taken to combat the coronavirus since issuing a stay-at-home order in March.

Since Washington saw the nation’s first confirmed COVID-19 case in late January, the state’s health department has recorded a total of more than 206,000 confirmed infections, with 3,042 fatalities and at least 13,074 hospitalizations due to the virus.