Oregon could eliminate quarantines for students exposed to COVID-19 with test-to-stay rollout by Nov. 30 – Community News
Covid-19

Oregon could eliminate quarantines for students exposed to COVID-19 with test-to-stay rollout by Nov. 30

The Oregon Department of Education director said on Wednesday that K-12 schools should soon nearly eliminate the need to quarantine students exposed to COVID-19.

Director Colt Gill said he hopes the state will be able to implement a “test-to-stay” program by the end of November. That means unvaccinated students, who have to stay home from school for seven to 14 days because they have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, may instead attend school in person as long as they test negative.

The tests are paid for by the state, using federal coronavirus aid money, and are free to students.

Students will be tested immediately after exposure is determined, and then a second time near or at the seven-day mark, Gill said.

Testing students only twice in a one-week period would make Oregon’s programs dramatically different from many others in the US, where students are checked out minimally every other day using rapid tests. In Georgia, exposed students are tested daily for seven days. In Massachusetts, it’s every day for at least five days. But Washington only requires two tests over seven days.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the test-to-stay model as “a promising practice,” it has not endorsed or recommended how often students should be tested and over what period.

When The Oregonian/OregonLive asked Oregon Department of Education officials on Wednesday why they aren’t opting for more frequent testing, they couldn’t immediately answer.

Gill announced the rollout of the program to a state legislative committee overseeing Oregon’s COVID-19 response.

It is unclear whether the program will actually start at the end of this month. Officials serving some of the largest counties in the state have not announced plans to begin test-to-stay programs in the next two weeks.

Portland Public Schools officials did not respond to a question on Wednesday. Shellie Bailey-Shah, a spokesperson for Beaverton’s schools, said the start date of the test-to-stay in the district will depend on the availability of the test. Spokesperson Beth Graser said Hillsboro schools are “ready to participate in programs made available to us,” but she thinks districts need more information and guidance from the state.

Gill told lawmakers a lack of testing supplies has held back the program’s launch.

“Governor Brown, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Ed have been working with our federal partners to advocate for an adequate supply and stable supply of tests going forward,” Gill said. “We think we’re almost in place.”

The new program would “reduce or nearly eliminate quarantines for students,” Gill said. Students need parental consent to participate.

However, Gill stressed that vaccination is the best solution to avoid quarantine.

Students who are fully vaccinated but exposed to someone with COVID-19 can stay in school without testing or quarantine, as long as they remain symptom-free. It’s worth noting that the CDC says vaccinated people who have been exposed should be tested five to seven days later, even if they don’t show any symptoms.

The requirement that unvaccinated students be quarantined after exposure has caused major disruptions in the learning process this school year. Although state education officials did not respond Wednesday to provide a statewide figure, more than 3,300 students at Portland Public Schools have been quarantined for periods of up to 10 days or more since the academic year began in September. . That number could be an overstatement, however, as some of the 3,300 reported quarantines may have involved students who had to stay home multiple times.

There have also been some notable quarantine incidents. In early September, between 40 and 50 students at both Duniway Elementary in Southeast Portland and Hallinan Elementary in Lake Oswego were forced to quarantine in separate incidents after riding on school buses with someone who was infected. Later that month, Reynolds High School’s 2,700 students in Troutdale temporarily suspended face-to-face learning after teachers determined that a third of the students may have come into close contact with four contagious people. In September and October, a sophomore in the North Clackamas School District missed a total of 16 days of school because he was exposed twice to several COVID-19 cases.

— Aimee Green; [email protected]; @o_aimee