SALEM, OR (KPTV) – In an afternoon press conference Tuesday, state health officials said right now, Oregon is not where it needs to be to successfully reopen schools.
This comes as Gov. Kate Brown announced $28M from her emergency education relief fund would be going to schools.
State health officials said they developed guidelines to help school districts make local decisions based on what’s happening with the virus in their community.
Before a school returns to in-person instruction, whether it’s a hybrid model or on-site learning, some metrics must be met.
For three weeks in a row, the state must track the percentage of positive tests at or below 5 percent in the preceding seven days.
To give you some perspective, Oregon has not met this goal yet in July, but it is currently trending in the right direction.
For counties, they must also follow the 5 percent or lower testing metric and also see less than 10 cases per 100,000 people in the preceding seven days.
For a school district that draws many students or staff from multiple counties, health officials say the case and test positivity rate should be considered in each of those counties.
“There is no simple, statewide answer for Oregon. We need to get our students back to class, but how we do it depends on a number of important factors like the prevalence of the virus, the availability of testing, the capacity of local healthcare system to provide quality care, and the readiness of our public health system to work with schools to contain any outbreaks that may occur,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist and health officer.
There are three exceptions if a school district cannot meet these metrics. This is, providing a few factors: COVID-19 is not actively spreading in the school community, the county case rate is less than 30 cases per 100,000 people in the preceding seven days for the past three weeks, the county’s test positivity is 5 percent or less for the same time period, and schools are fully complying with state guidance.
The exceptions are remote and rural public and private schools with 100 students or less, limited instruction on-site to students with disabilities or to provide other educational needs and providing in-person education for kindergarteners through third graders.
“It’s expected that these in-class options will be offered to the extent possible under the reopening plans and here’s why: Our younger students get the virus at lower rates, get less sick and are less likely to transmit the virus and these younger students need access to in-person education to build the literacy and numeracy skills that they need that are critical to their continued learning,” Sidelinger said.
Health officials are also asking school districts that can provide in-person instruction to have contingency plans in place to switch to comprehensive distance learning because of the possibility of COVID-19 outbreaks in the school community.
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