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Evelyn Salazar, left, and Jesenia Ramos sit outside with their classmates during Dr. Elise Tulloss’ UW physiology course Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, at La Salle High School in Union Gap, Wash.

La Salle High School, Naches Valley Elementary School and a local early learning program elected to temporarily close their buildings Friday in light of new COVID-19 cases.

La Salle moved to remote learning ahead of Thanksgiving break after its third COVID-19 case, said Yakima Health District Chief Operating Officer Ryan Ibach. The cases are not believed to be connected to or transmitted at the school.

On Thursday night, a Naches Valley Elementary School staff member tested positive, marking the fourth adult case related to the school in two weeks, the district said in an announcement. The district also elected to close the campus as a precaution, District Superintendent Robert Bowman said Friday. The duration of the closure is yet to be determined, “as the situation is still fluid,” he added.

The four cases in Naches were determined by the Yakima Health District to be from exposure to COVID-19 in the community, rather than infection within the school, Ibach said. He said the health district did not mandate the closure.

Learning in Naches Valley’s elementary school will continue remotely, according to the district announcement.

“We must temporarily close our elementary school to protect the health of our students and staff,” it said. “We understand this may be a hardship for families and is disruptive to student learning, but we believe the health and safety of our students and staff must come first.”

Earlier this week, the health district and Yakima area school superintendents met to pause plans to bring back high school students for in person learning because of a rise in COVID-19 cases statewide.

COVID-19 in schools

Several districts across the county have had confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year, with 52 total confirmed as of Nov. 17, according to Yakima Health District data. Among those, only two — one each in Sunnyside and Grandview school districts — were from in-school exposure.

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In November, East Valley, Granger, Highland, Naches Valley, Selah, Sunnyside, Toppenish, Union Gap, Wapato and Yakima school districts reported new cases, according to the data.

Also as of Nov. 17, there had also been eight confirmed cases in private schools countywide, only one of which was determined to be from in-school exposure. The majority of these cases were confirmed in November.

The health district updates COVID-19 data for Yakima County schools weekly on its website.

Prior closures

A handful of school or classroom closures took place earlier in the school year.

Valley View Elementary in Toppenish was the first to see a closure, Ibach said, after one of its small groups of high-needs students was exposed to the virus. The school had not returned its full population of students to campus at the time, so the impact was minimal.

In late October, Sunnyside Christian School closed its school building due to confirmed cases. The elementary campus was temporarily closed, although the health district only mandated closure of the classroom immediately impacted.

In early November, Roosevelt Elementary School in Granger closed two classrooms voluntarily, and earlier this week Carroll Children’s Center, a child care in Yakima, closed four classrooms voluntarily after confirmed cases, Ibach said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that classrooms in a Granger Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program for 3- and 4-year-olds closed.

Reach Janelle Retka at jretka@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @janelleretka