Cowlitz County schools are seeing more staff and student absences as cold and influenza season sets in, with flu activity statewide rising dramatically in the past month, according to Department of Health data.
Longview and Kelso both reported a rise in student absences over the past several weeks, according to district spokespeople, which is typical for this time of year.
Kalama has seen a similar increase, with some improvements last week, district spokesman Nick Shanmac said. During a two-week span in November, Kalama Elementary School saw an average of 125 students — or 25 percent — out per day, he said.
The three districts reported staff absences as well, with some trouble finding substitutes but nothing unmanageable. Last year, school districts combined bus routes and canceled school days amid pandemic-fueled staffing shortages.
How to stay healthy
The health department recommends people keep themselves and their loved ones safe from COVID-19, the flu and other respiratory viruses by:
- Getting vaccinated.
- Staying home when sick and keeping sick children home from school.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water.
- Covering coughs and sneezes.
- Avoiding touching their faces with unwashed hands.
- Considering wearing a face mask in crowded indoor spaces, especially if at risk from severe illness.
Locally, reports of the flu are coming in earlier in the season, compared to before the pandemic.
The rate of positive influenza tests reported to Cowlitz County laboratories increased in late November to about 30 percent after an initial jump above 10 percent and leveling off in October, according to the health department data report.
During the same time in November 2019, Cowlitz County recorded a 7 percent influenza positive rate. Activity during that flu season peaked in late December at nearly 40 percent.
Clark County has seen a larger jump, with a positivity rate increasing from 9 percent to 43 percent from early to late November. Flu activity has already reached the peak recorded in late December during the 2019-20 season, according to the Public Health report. In the 2018-19 season, activity peaked at the same level but in late February.
After two seasons of well-below-average flu activity in Washington, this season has started earlier and positive tests have risen faster than in 2019-20, according to the Department of Health data reports.
During the week of Nov. 20 to Nov. 26, flu activity statewide rose to “very high,” with nearly 33 percent of tests coming back positive, according to the Department of Health. The state has recorded 13 influenza-associated deaths so far this season, including two children.
Two of the deaths were recorded in the Southwest region, which includes Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties. Neither of the deaths was in Cowlitz County, said Carole Harrison, county health and human services director.
The state has recorded 13 influenza outbreaks in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, with none so far in Cowlitz County, Harrison said.
Along with the flu, other respiratory illnesses are circulating, driving up clinic and emergency department volumes in the region and state.
Statewide, influenza-like illness reported from some emergency departments continued to increase far above 2019-20’s peak, according to the state report.
Unlike last fall and winter, Washington’s and Cowlitz County’s COVID-19 cases are highest among seniors, rather than children and teens.
Statewide, COVID-19 activity remains relatively low. In Cowlitz County, cases increased slightly from about 20 per 100,000 people in mid-October to 45 per 100,000 in mid-November, but remain below the statewide average of 68 per 100,000.
Washington’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased to 4.5 per 100,000 people, up from a low of 3.5 in October. Cowlitz County hospitalizations fell to 2.7 per 100,000 in October, rose to 9 per 100,000 in early November and most recently are on par with the state average.