FILE PHOTO — Signs around Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia show support for hospital workers.

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services reported nine new cases of COVID-19 Friday, bringing the total number of cases countywide to 649 since March.

Friday’s new cases were reported as an individual between the ages of 10 and 29, one individual in their 20s, four individuals in their 30s, one individual in their 40s, one individual in their 50s and one in their 70s.

Eight deaths in the county have been linked to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. All individuals were over the age of 60.

The latest death, reported Wednesday, was a male in his 90s. His death certificate is still pending review by Public Health staff.

Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek on Friday published a letter to the community further explaining her decision to strongly urge public and private schools keep their doors closed this fall.

In the letter, she explains that spread of the virus and new cases are still trending upwards and the county has not yet seen a plateau in those data points.

The move was motivated by an urge to keep both children and vulnerable teachers and school staff members safe from contracting the virus, the long term health effects of which are still not fully known, she said.

“People who work and teach in our schools are diverse in their acute risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Abdelmalek wrote. “They vary in age and have different health conditions that can put them at higher risk.

“While children are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, some children become profoundly sick, some even experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) where the brain, lungs, heart, and other organs can become inflamed.”

Schools — which every year contribute to the severe spread of seasonal viruses and colds — are not islands, she wrote.

“A rise in COVID-19 cases affect all of us including the families tending to loved ones who are sick,” Abdelmalek wrote. “Our demonstrated growth in cases and rate at which people are becoming infected makes it unsafe for schools to open for in-person instruction.

“Ensuring it is safe to go to school before restarting in-person instruction is essential to the long-term health of our community.”

She added that the county is working closely with the eight school districts to determine what the requirements are in order to safely reopen.

They’re also working with community partners in the child care industries to make sure those businesses and organizations are implementing health guidelines and recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

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