The Oregon Department of Education on Wednesday released a new COVID-19 guide for schools that is making significant changes to what schools are required to do.
In addition to the initial game changer of leaving masking decisions to schools and districts, the new guide loosens most demands from the pandemic era, removing things like contact tracking and quarantine from March 12 and continuing to make isolation optional or “on it. most strongly advised. “
It encourages schools to lean on their communicable disease plans with local public health agencies, as they did before the pandemic.
Oregon masking rule falls March 12:Here’s what you need to know
“This may feel like it signals the end of the pandemic, and I would like to be aware that that is not the intention here,” ODE Director Colt Gill said during a news conference Wednesday. “Every shift over the last two years has been in response to a new phase of the pandemic and its effects, as well as our experience and learning about the effectiveness of various mitigation efforts. The shift we are discussing today signals just that: a new phase of the pandemic, and one in which our state has a built-in immunity for at least the next few months. “
Salem-Keizer Public School officials did not immediately respond to a request from the Statsman Journal for comment on how they will proceed under the new protocols, or when they will announce a decision on masking claims.
ODE’s new guidelines include some minor changes in line with new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Monday. It also includes somewhat weaker language, such as masks that are no longer needed on school buses, and changing the physical distance of three feet from a requirement to something schools should “strive for.”
There are a few more significant changes, including that students and staff in elementary school and the age of 12 will no longer be quarantined if they have been exposed, affecting schools’ Test to Stay protocol.
The CDC updated its guidelines Monday to say that universal case investigation and contact tracing are no longer recommended outside of high-risk settings. So with effect from March 12, Oregon will halt contact tracking and quarantine for the general public, including K-12 settings.
“Instead of contact tracking, schools are strongly encouraged to provide cohort notifications when an exposure occurs,” Gill said. “A cohort could be a classroom, could be a school bus population, could be a lunch group. But these messages will allow individuals and families to take further precautions and make use of state and local resources to meet their individual needs.”
Because quarantine protocol is no longer required, regardless of vaccination status, the state’s Test to Stay protocol will shift from some form of modified quarantine to an improved exposure test, according to Gill.
“Schools will offer this enhanced exposure test to individuals at increased risk for serious illness so that this could include cohorts of medically fragile students,” he said.
The Test to Stay program previously used rapid antigen testing for real-time response in schools if a student had been exposed to COVID-19. Now, these tests will primarily be reserved for high-risk students. Schools will continue to offer diagnostic tests for students and staff as well as screening tests through the state’s opt-in program to perform weekly PCR home tests.
Gill and OHA’s health worker Dr. Dean Sidelinger said this decision was due to declining hospitalization rates and a belief that there is broader community immunity right now due to the number of people who have been given the omicron variant and greater availability of home tests and tests. in schools.
Schools are still “strongly” encouraged to notify families if there has been an exposure. If a student has been exposed to a person with COVID-19, it is now up to the individual or family to seek out a test and determine if it is okay to send their child to school.
“We feel it is a safe time for this transition back to local decision-making and individual decision-making (by parents and families),” Gill said. “This is very similar to the way schools have operated around infectious diseases for years.
“We hope people benefit from the clear range of tests that the Oregon Health Authority has provided to schools, and if they have COVID-19 symptoms, they seek out a test and then follow the isolation protocols for five days for to help prevent proliferation in that school environment. “
Isolation is not required if a student tests positive, only “at the strongest” for at least five days. This language is not new in this latest state guide, but still has an impact due to the changes from the CDC around quarantine and other local decision making.
“Providing individuals and communities with information and tools to lower the risk of getting COVID-19 will continue to be a part of our lives,” Sidelinger said. “We will remain vigilant and ready to respond to change, but (COVID-19) should no longer control our lives.”