Seattle Public Schools cancels first day of class in 2022 to offer COVID-19 tests

Concerns of the COVID-19 omicron variant spreading among children has one school district returning to class a day late in the New Year.

Seattle Public Schools canceled class on Jan. 3, and the opportunity for voluntary COVID-19 testing district-wide will take its place.

"Our goal is to help minimize transmission of the virus. We want to reduce intermittent disruptions to in-person learning. 80-90 percent of positive cases are asymptomatic. So, the goal here is to identify any cases before school resumes or quickly thereafter," said Tim Robinson, the district’s communications specialist.

The district will offer 60,000 rapid antigen tests for all students and staff on Jan. 3 at the following locations:

  • Denny International Middle School
  • Eckstein Middle School
  • Hamilton International Middle School
  • Jane Adams Middle School
  • Madison Middle School
  • McClure Middle School
  • Meany Middle School
  • Mercer International Middle School
  • Robert Eagle Staff Middle School
  • South Shore PreK-8 School
  • Washington Middle School
  • Whitman Middle School

South Shore PreK-8 School will also offer testing on January 2. SPS has more information about testing times, addresses, and consent forms on its website

"The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and we want to minimize the spread of the COVID virus. And so, testing is one tool to do that," said Robinson.

RELATED: US children hospitalized with COVID in near-record numbers

The district spokesperson said COVID-19 cases were detected within the district. More than 100 cases were reported the week of December 17.

"We did see a spike in mid-December. That went down a little bit among our students leading up to Christmas, and we’re still waiting for the latest data that will take us up to the present time," said Robinson.

He explained the anticipated data, as well as results from the upcoming rapid tests, would help the district determine if classrooms will stay open.

"We are prepared to temporarily pivot to online remote learning, if necessary. That is not necessary right now. It could be with a class, it could be with a school. There are too many scenarios to talk about reasonably. But the fact is, we will take any measure necessary all under the guidance of public health," said Robinson.

RELATED: UW to reduce capacity at COVID-19 test sites, reserved only for those with symptoms or exposure

Washington State Department of Health said an outbreak in K-12 classrooms is defined as at least three confirmed cases or 10 percent of the class affected by COVID. With the positivity rate increasing across the region, DOH officials said they anticipate temporary classroom or school closures.

"And the other aspects that can contribute to a potential closure of a classroom or school are the availability of staff to support the general operations of the school and health and safety of the students. So, those are factors and decisions that are made at the local level," said Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH deputy secretary for COVID-19 response.

DOH provided the rapid antigen tests to SPS.

Grab-and-go lunches will be available at all schools on January 3 from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. All athletic practices are canceled for Monday.

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