After learning a fellow staff member at Issaquah High School tested positive for measles, Julia Valvano-Knoppi scrambled Thursday to prove she was protected against the highly contagious disease.
The paraeducator called her mother, who had a clear memory of Valvano-Knoppi having measles as a toddler and then getting vaccinated anyway. Unable to find the 47-year-old documents, Valvano-Knoppi drove to her doctor’s office to get blood drawn, when the high school was closed.
On Thursday evening, she was still waiting for the results showing she has immunity.
Issaquah High will reopen Friday, but Valvano-Knoppi won’t be able to return until she can provide the district with documentation that she has been vaccinated.
“It was a surprise to hear that, out of all the places in the world for measles to pop up, it was the little town of Issaquah, at our high school,” she said. “I just hope and pray no one else is affected.”
The staff-member scramble is part of a larger response to a new measles outbreak affecting King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, which each had at least one case confirmed this week.
Health officials confirmed five new cases reported among people who spent time at sites throughout the Seattle area, including Issaquah High and North Creek High School in Bothell. It’s unclear where the people were exposed, but all were at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at some point during the period they were infected, health officials said.
In King County, officials have identified at least 22 exposure locations, which the patients visited when they were contagious but didn’t know they were infected, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, at a Board of Health meeting Thursday. They’ve done daily checks on three-dozen people who were in close contact with the patients and sent hundreds of letters to businesses and schools. It’s required a lot of extra work within the department.
“It’s very challenging to reach people, and for them to remember where they have been a couple weeks ago, to try to recreate an itinerary,” Duchin said.
At Issaquah High, not enough staff members could provide documentation of immunization in time to ensure there would be enough staff members to open school Thursday, said district spokeswoman L. Michelle, so the classes were canceled Wednesday evening.
Only students in advanced-placement courses were allowed to come to the school to take scheduled tests with proctors who had provided documentation. Signs on the doors said “school closed for today … per public health.”
By Thursday afternoon, more than half the staff had provided verification, enough to reopen the building on Friday.
However, a dozen seniors, along with an undisclosed number of younger students, are barred from school for two weeks, because they haven’t been vaccinated. May 31 will be the last day they could show symptoms for measles. They’ll miss a chunk of their last days of high school, but will be able to attend graduation –as long as there are no other confirmed cases.
North Creek High School – where one student attended classes while contagious – remained open. The students and staff who didn’t have measles immunization records received letters saying they are excluded until May 31. The Northshore School District did not provide information on the number of people who received the letters.
The letter warned that almost anyone who has not had the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) will contract measles if they are exposed to the measles virus.
At the board of health meeting, Duchin said that it’s important to not look at the outbreaks as a short-term issue even though 90 percent of kindergartners and 96 percent of sixth graders in Washington are are fully vaccinated against measles.
“This is going to be with us for a number of years,” he said. “The best thing to do is get vaccinated. There’s a very good preventative step we can all take.”
Valvano-Knoppi, the Issaquah paraeducator, said she plans to keep checking the website where her test results will be posted. Her doctor told her she would get in touch as soon as she heard anything.
“I’m thankful they have enough staff to open school tomorrow, and if I have to miss work, it’s just a small blip in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “I just want to get back to school for the kids.”