PORTLAND, Ore. -- Gov. Kate Brown held a press conference Tuesday to provide additional guidelines for Oregon schools as the new school year approaches.
New COVID-19 health and safety metrics will help guide school districts as they create plans for what learning will look like this fall.
The governor was joined by Director Colt Gill of the Oregon Department of Education, Director Miriam Calderon of the Oregon Early Learning Division and Dr. Dean Sidelinger from the Oregon Health Authority.
Districts and public health officials will need to look at at COVID-19 case numbers, as well as the positivity rate per capita, at the county and statewide levels.
“Only with low rates of disease and with adequate safeguards in place should schools return to in-person instruction,” Brown said. “Both of these things are true. Good schools improve health and we need to be cautious so that schools don't become places where the virus spreads.”
Schools that wish to hold in-person instruction will now need to meet specific guidelines. The county they are in can only have so many cases over a seven-day period for three straight weeks.
At both the county and state level, the COVID-19 positivity rate needs to be under 5% for three weeks. And each county must have fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day span also for three weeks.
Based on population numbers from 2018, Lane County could have no more than 38 cases. Douglas County would be maxed out at 12. Coos County would be limited to 7. Benton County would be at 10. And Linn County would be no more than 13.
"Today in Oregon, we are not where we need to be to safely reopen schools," Dr. Dean Sidelinger with the Oregon Health Authority said. "Case rates over the last week were about 50 per 100,000 statewide. Our test positivity is approaching 5%. Our current case rates are higher than they need to be and are higher than they were in other countries when schools reopened. We can suppress COVID-19 and return to levels where we can reopen schools. We did it before. We’ll do it again.”
There are exceptions in certain circumstances for students in kindergarten through third grade and in remote and rural school districts with fewer than 100 students.
In these cases, there are a few conditions that must be met. According to KGW, they are:
- Fewer than 30 cases per 100,000 over seven days
- Test positivity of 5% or less over seven days
- COVID-19 is not actively spreading in the school community
- School districts are in compliance with sections 1-3 of Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance
The goal remains to allow all Oregon students to have an equitable chance to thrive.
“Equity has to be at the forefront of our decision-making,” Brown said. “We know our youngest children, students of color, low-income students and students experiencing disability have faced the greatest challenges accessing a high quality education and in their learning and development.”
Leaders shared that there will be a focus on providing students with access to hotspots, Wi-Fi and other technology they need to succeed.
Spokesman Jason Davis with Lane County Public Health shared several goals from the county’s roadmap. This included steps at containing the disease, ensuring health responders have what they need, minimizing the economic impact and also preparing for the fall.
“This is going to be a pivotal time in the outbreak,” Davis said. “Looking at going back to school in whatever fashion that ends up being and also preparing for higher education, University of Oregon and our various colleges and universities in the area. Trying to coordinate with them and prepare for that influx of new people that could potentially happen here in the fall.”
Davis said this is happening through various meetings and calls.
“What the guidance is based on is those public health indicators,” Davis said. “Our ability to flatten the curve, our ability to keep the numbers low to overall help our schools in their process of trying to provide the best and most complete education for students in a safe and healthy way.”