UPDATE: Oregon to scrap Covid quarantines and contact tracing in schools March 12

Students who are sick or test positive for Covid will still have to stay home, but the state is dropping many of its other Covid-related guidelines as well as the mask mandate, health and education officials said Wednesday. Salem-Keizer Public Schools will announce a plan by the end of the week, Superintendent Christy Perry said.

A student sanitizes her hands upon entering Blanchet Catholic School on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Covid will soon be just another disease in Oregon schools.

From March 12, students will no longer be required to self-quarantine if exposed to the virus, unless they become ill or test positive.

State health and education officials are also recommending schools stop all contact tracing, the practice of determining who was close to someone with the virus to stop the spread of the virus.

Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, said the changes reflect the evolving reality of the pandemic, with higher levels of immunity and greater transmissibility of the virus, making the search for the contacts and subsequent quarantine ineffective.

“Covid-19 has evolved to become one of the most transmissible viruses known, and by the time exposure is identified and contact tracing is performed, transmission has often already occurred,” Gill said during an interview. a press conference on Wednesday.

The changes announced Wednesday will go into effect the day Oregon’s statewide mask mandate is lifted – March 12.

Oregon health agencies will stop recommending quarantine and stop contact tracing for the general public on the same date.

Schools or local districts still have the option of enacting mask mandates locally or imposing stricter Covid protocols, and any student or school employee can choose to wear a mask even when not required.

Salem-Keizer School District leaders have not yet announced how the district will respond to the changing guidelines or whether they will seek to impose a local mask mandate.

Superintendent Christy Perry said she plans to make an announcement on masking by the end of the week. She and other district leaders talk with local health care providers.

“We’ve seen the guidelines, we’ve reviewed them carefully, we’ve met with community health partners,” Perry told The Salem Reporter Wednesday afternoon. “We’re glad the numbers are down and we’re not seeing the community spread.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said contact tracing will continue in high-risk settings such as prisons, shelters and long-term care facilities where people live in close quarters.

“It may feel like it signals the end of the pandemic and I want to be clear that’s not the intention here,” Gill said.

Rather, he said, the changes reflect a time of lower risk and a desire to allow Oregonians and local officials to make decisions that reflect their own risk tolerance and local conditions.

Gill said that means shifting responsibility for adapting to changing conditions onto county commissioners, who function as local health boards, and local public health authorities.

Marion County leaders have expressed little interest in the county playing this role.

In response to a Salem Reporter question about how the county health department would notify local schools in light of the changes, spokesman Jon Heyen said no guidance would be given.

“Each school district in Marion County is unique, with different challenges they face, and we believe decisions regarding new ODE/OHA COVID-19 guidelines should be made at the local level,” Heyen said in a statement. E-mail. “The Marion County Board of Commissioners and the Marion County Department of Health and Human Services will not be providing recommendations to local school districts on new COVID-19 guidelines issued by the OHA or ODE.”

Once the changes take effect, Covid will generally be treated like any other communicable disease in Oregon schools.

This means parents must keep children home for five days when they are sick or test positive for the virus, Gill said.

The state Department of Education encourages schools to issue blanket notifications to students and school employees when someone in their classroom, school bus, sports team or other group at school tests positive. for the virus.

That notification should include information on how to get tested for Covid, Gill said.

As with the flu or other communicable diseases, local public health authorities can still order schools temporarily closed in the event of a Covid outbreak or high incidence of illness, Sidelinger said.

Sidelinger said the changes also reflect an effort by state officials to keep Covid testing more available to those who need it most, such as medically fragile and immunocompromised students and school workers.

Instead of widely testing students at low risk for the virus, he said it was important that testing was available for those most at risk so they could quickly get tested after exposure to the virus.

“We believe that at a time when disease rates are falling, this will not significantly increase the risk in schools,” Sidelinger said.

Oregon will maintain its requirement that all school employees and volunteers be vaccinated against Covid or apply for a religious or medical exemption, Sidelinger said. He said there were no plans to remove this rule.

“Covid has not gone away, so having high levels of vaccination among staff and volunteers in schools is an important tool,” he said.

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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