High rates of illness among staff and students at Ocean Shores Elementary School resulted in limited staff availability and forced the school to close for the day Tuesday, Jan. 24 to perform a “deep clean.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the district planned to reopen the school Wednesday, according to North Beach School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Angela Lyte Crowther.
The temporary shutdown came over a month after state health officials in December expressed concern about a possible “tripledemic” — a surge in cases in COVID-19, influenza and RSV — but only a week after the state reported a “minimal” level of influenza-like activity in Washington.
In an announcement of the elementary school’s closure, North Beach district said a number of different viruses have kept students and staff out of school, including a particularly prevalent stomach flu bug. The district has also seen a recent uptick in positive COVID tests — including four in a 24-hour time period prior to the school’s closure, according to district nurse Ann Allen.
“Unfortunately, it appears to be COVID’s turn to have the highest activity,” North Beach School District said on its website. “We have had multiple staff and students test positive with almost all grades affected. Additionally, we have staff and students out with other illnesses including the stomach flu, which is also very contagious.”
Crowther, herself home sick with pneumonia, said the district made the decision to close the school late Monday afternoon.
She said the district determined about 20% of the 39-person staff — including the school’s principal and vice principal — would be out sick, a threshold of absence that left the school incapable of functioning. Sufficient substitutes weren’t available, Crowther said.
“We just don’t have the reserves that we need to have to be able to effectively deliver instruction,” Crowther said.
In addition, the district reported a 13% student absentee rate due to illness Tuesday.
The district also wanted to conduct more COVID testing and perform a “deep clean” of the school, during which school staff wiped down high-contact surfaces. Stan Sturgeon, maintenance director with the district, said he and several custodians applied a hydrogen peroxide mixture to public areas of the school and later followed with a disinfectant spray, as well as mopping hard-surface floors and walls. A similar cleaning process was used throughout the pandemic, Sturgeon said.
Another custodian cleaned classroom surfaces Tuesday evening, Sturgeon said.
The deep clean should be effective in killing the stomach flu virus, a highly contagious illness that can live on surfaces for days, Allen said. The virus causes nausea, vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea.
“The deep clean can make a huge impact to that (the stomach flu virus on surfaces),” Allen said.
An Ocean Shores Elementary office remained open Tuesday to assist with testing, according to the district’s website. Through a Washington state Department of Health program, Allen said, the district received “triplex” tests, which can identify the presence of COVID, influenza A or influenza B in a single nose swab.
Triplex tests allow for a streamlined testing process, although patients can still take a COVID-only test.
Allen said the district began using triplex tests on Jan. 15. Since then, nine people from the school at Ocean Shores Elementary have tested positive for COVID, but none have tested positive for influenza.
Those cases included, 15 total people have tested positive for COVID district-wide since Jan. 4, Allen said.
Allen said the district’s flu activity for this school year matched larger state trends, peaking in late November and early December, but hasn’t been as prevalent lately.
Although the Grays Harbor County Public Health Department keeps in close contact with school districts regarding COVID cases, according to public health communications officer Dan Hammock, the agency didn’t make any recommendation that the district close the school.
Hammock said Grays Harbor County has seen a slight increase in COVID cases in the last few weeks. According to the state health department, the county COVID rate is “moderate” at 43 cases per 100,000 people. At the height of the Omicron variant outbreak in January 2022, COVID rates approached 2,000 cases per 100,000 for Washington state.
Allen said the district is encouraging hand washing and will continue to wipe down surfaces after each school day. Mask wearing is encouraged, Allen said, and sick staff and students should stay home from school.
“Pairing that with the good hand washing and surface cleaning hopefully will get on top of the multitude of viruses that are really affecting the community,” Allen said.
Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.