PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon officials have released updated COVID-19 guidelines for schools following the state’s announcement earlier in the week to lift indoor mask mandates by mid-March.

According to Colt Gill, the director for the Oregon Department of Education, the state will pause contact tracing and quarantine for general populations, including K-12 settings, effective March 12.

“The decision to pause contact tracing and quarantining acknowledges that these practices now, unlike earlier in the pandemic, have very limited impact on transmission of COVID-19 in our community,” Gill said. “Following to omicron surge in Oregon, and for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic here in Oregon, we have very high levels of vaccine and infection-induced immunity.”

Instead of contract tracing, schools will be strongly encouraged to provide cohort notifications when exposure occurs.

Schools will continue to offer diagnostic testing for students and staff. When a student tests positive for COVID-19 and/or has symptoms, officials said they should isolate for five days, followed by an additional five days of masking.

Gill said that these changes don’t signify the end of the pandemic, but instead, “a new stage of the pandemic.”

“All of this represents a significant change in operations of our schools and the day-to-day experience for students and staff,” Gill said. “This feels like it’s signaling the end of the pandemic, and I want to be clear that’s not the intention here.”

The vast majority of the new safety guidelines, put out by ODE and the Oregon Health Authority, are advisory and will allow local districts to choose whether to implement the changes or not. However, the state public health director at OHA will retain the authority to close any facility “that presents a public health risk,” the guidelines state.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance regarding case investigation and contact tracing, stating that universal case investigation and contact tracing are no longer recommended outside of high-risk settings.

This update also comes after Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday that mask requirements for indoor public spaces would be lifted on March 12. While the state has chosen to lift the indoor mask mandate, the decision to keep or ditch masks will still be up to local school districts.

School districts across the Portland metro area have been debating a path forward after the state mask mandate is lifted. As of Monday:

  • Portland Public Schools is working on it with the local health department
  • Beaverton School District is working on it with the local health department
  • Hillsboro School District said masks will become optional but is working on transition details expected at the end of the week.
  • Forest Grove Schools also said masks will be optional, but said there will be instances where masking is required based on individual students’ needs, such as those who are medically fragile
  • Gresham-Barlow expects to have an update on Friday