Oregon schools build in COVID protocols for the future

Coronavirus

About one-third of students are participating in in-person school

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As many elementary students in Oregon are getting ready to go back to school beginning this week, the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Education are working together to craft what schools look like now and next year.

The elementary students going back to class will either be in a hybrid or full in-person instruction. Mask wearing is mandatory and onsite COVID-19 testing is being offered to all public and private schools in the state.

Under the Ready Schools Safe Learners guidance, there is a long list of safety and health protocols in place, including “entry screening, face coverings, physical distancing, cohorting,” said Colt Gill, the Director of the Oregon Department of Education.

The CDC also recommends students and staff with symptoms be offered testing and, in Oregon, they’re offering onsite testing for COVID-19 for students and staff who develop symptoms while on campus.

Dr. Dean Sidelinger during a press conference about Oregon reopening and a facemask requirement, June 18, 2020 (KOIN)

The testing is “offered to all public and private schools in the state and is required for schools opening above the advisory metrics, required for contact sports operating in high or extreme level of risk in the state,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer with the OHA.

So far, 942 schools have registered for it. And some school staff will be trained on how to identify the virus.

Sidelinger said this new role “will help identify positive cases within school setting.” They’ll be trained how to notify families, what to do and what not to do. They could be school nurses or administrative staff but the staff that is trained will vary.

These people won’t be trained to be epidemiologists, said epidemiologist Sidelinger. “We really look at how to complement the existing system so we can ensure families impacted by COVID-19 get the appropriate information. We teach them COVID facts, risk management.”

Looking toward the next school year, Gill said there are a few constants.

“We believe physical distancing, face covering, COVID testing will all continue to be part of the picture next fall,” he said.

Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill at a press conference on COVID and schools, October 30, 2020 (KOIN)

He noted that most of Oregon is in the “green zone in our set of metrics. So 33 counties (of Oregon’s 36) can operate K-12 schools in-person either through hybrid or fully onsite.”

About one-third of the students in Oregon are participating in school in person. “50,797 are fully onsite,” Gill said, “149,005 hybrid.”

Samantha Steel, the superintendent of the Central Point School District, said they began comprehensive distance learning in March 2020.

“If you were to ask our students or families about how things are going I think they would tell you success would be having students back in school fulltime,” Steel said.

But the budget for next year is a concern. “In order to pull off our school operations,” she said, “we’ve made massive technology investments, hot spots, laptops.”

OHA says the schools that have registered for the K-12 program, testing is currently available for symptomatic and COVID-19 exposed students and staff.

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