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Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek

Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek on Wednesday recommended new restrictions on increasing the number of students engaged in hybrid in-person learning and also recommended school districts cease competitive play for school sports.

Abdelmalek laid out her new recommendations in an Oct. 15 letter to the community. In it, she said her department’s decisions have been made due to the continuing increase of COVID-19 in the county.

The county is reporting a transmission rate of 61.6 cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, which is on the rise and getting closer to the “high” transmission range of 75 cases reported per 100,000, at least according to the state’s definitions.

Abdelmalek wrote that if the county enters the “high’ range, she’ll continue watching caseloads for another two weeks, then make a determination on if public schools should return to remote learning.

“If moderate transmission continues during this 14 day pause, crossing into the high transmission range seems unlikely, and there is enough health care capacity and public health capacity to support a possible increase in cases, then I will recommend continuing to gradually phase in more in-person learning opportunities per the Washington State Department of Health decision making framework,” she wrote.

A 14-day pause is currently underway for new students looking to head back to hybrid in-person learning. Students currently engaged in hybrid learning can still continue during this time.

Last week, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association released new return to play guidelines based on each county’s transmission rate. This plan lays out specific plans for what’s specifically allowed in counties with low, moderate, and high rates.

According to WIAA, “moderate” risk counties such as Thurston County with cases between 25 and 75 per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, and with a test-positive rate under 5 percent, are allowed to scrimmage, host intra-team competition and league games for low and moderate risk sports.

Under Abdelmalek’s guidance, Thurston County will recommend against scrimmage games, intra-team competitions, league games or spectated competitions at this time.

“If schools choose to allow team practices or training for sports for students they must limit groups to cohorts of six individuals, practice outside, maintain a distance of six feet or more, enforce strict mask wearing for athletes when not actively engaged in strenuous activity, enforce masking for all coaches/staff at all times, screen for symptoms, use safe hygiene practices, and follow CDC and WIAA guidance for the cleaning of equipment,” she wrote.

This guidance will likely add difficulties for smaller schools, which like all districts are looking forward to possible competition this January.

Tenino High School’s Athletics Department wrote on Thursday that they will have to shut down all practices and facilities until further notice due to the new regulations.

“Our hopes are that putting a halt to activities for a window of time now will help us get back to practicing and hopefully competing in time to participate in the new WIAA declared Season 2, which is set to begin the final week of December,” Athletic Director Josef Chirhart wrote.

This comes as Thurston County Public Health and Social Services on Thursday reported 18 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of diagnoses reported since the start of the health crisis to 1,519.

The county has also reported four new deaths in the last seven days, with the latest reported on Wednesday. The total toll of COVID-19 related deaths stands at 21.

Here are some additional numbers related to the coronavirus situation, both regionally and nationally, that were reported as of Thursday:

• The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reported 85 new cases, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 8,858. No new deaths were reported and the total number of COVID-19 deaths stands at 182. The average number of cases per day over the last two weeks stands at about 63.8.

• The Washington State Department of Health on Wednesday night reported an additional 676 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total reported to 96,185. Statewide hospitalizations stand at 7,956 and deaths are at 2,232. The number of tests conducted statewide stands at 2,169,192. The percentage of deaths over confirmed cases stands at 2.3 percent.

• The total number of deaths in the United States stands at 216,025, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A total 7,894,768 cases have been reported by the agency as well.

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