PORTLAND, Ore. -- Following a statement last week that state officials were revisiting Oregon's school coronavirus metrics, Governor Kate Brown convened a press conference on Friday morning to discuss the new benchmarks.
In a preliminary statement to KDRV in Medford, the governor's office said:
"COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and most Oregon students have not been able to learn in a classroom since last March. In-person instruction is critical not only for students’ educational success, but also for their health and wellbeing.
"In communities that meet the new metrics for COVID-19 spread, additional students will be able to return to the classroom, with schools following the Ready Schools, Safe Learners health and safety protocols established by ODE and OHA to mitigate infection risks. However, in many communities across Oregon, more work must be done to contain the spread of this disease before students will be able to return to the classroom."
“We are making adjustments to the metrics based on our best judgment of science,” Brown said. “They are not radical shifts. Not every school district across the state will suddenly be able to meet these metrics and reopen today. In fact, the vast majority of our students will not be able to return to class.”
The metrics, announced amid record high case rates in Oregon, will make it easier for schools to bring students back into classrooms. Close to 130,000 students will be able to return to schools. Read the full document here.
“We will be living with COVID-19 for a long time to come,” Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said. “We’ve learned a lot about how to reduce the risk of transmission. As a state, we need to recognize the importance of getting our kids back to school. They've been away for too long.”
Previous metrics held schools to a standard derived from case rates at both the county and state level. A statewide test positivity rate of 5 percent or lower — which Oregon has not seen since mid-September — was required for most schools to allow classes to any students above the K-3 level.
Brown's office released the following major changes to the previous metrics:
- Measurement period, 2-week average: County metrics will be measured for one, 2-week period instead of three 1-week periods. Particularly in small counties with low case counts, a small change in the number of cases in one week could have prevented schools from opening under the previous metrics.
- Remove statewide positivity metric: Holding all districts to a statewide positivity metric has led some schools to remain closed even when community metrics are at safer level—now only a county’s positivity rate will be used.
- Elementary School (K-6): Elementary schools provide the best opportunity for maintaining small cohorts. This group of students also has the most difficulty with comprehensive distance learning and individual study—young students are still learning to read, and can still have difficulty reading to learn. Under previous metrics, only K-3 students were allowed to return to school first, meaning that elementary schools could reopen in some districts but 4th, 5th, and 6th graders could not return to their school. Under new guidance, OHA and ODE have determined that students in grade K-6 can return so long as strict protocols are followed and with consultation with local public health.
- New metrics for in-person instruction: A full guidance document from ODE explaining the new metrics for in-person instruction is available above.
- Local decision-making: No metrics can account for all situations, particularly in a state as large and diverse as Oregon. In addition, school districts need time to plan to shift from distance learning to in-person instruction, or back if necessary. Under the new school metrics, school districts, in consultation with local public health, will make final decisions about when schools can move to in-person instruction. ODE and OHA will advise school districts during that process, and will confirm with school districts when their county has satisfied the required metrics for the return to in-person instruction. ODE, OHA, and Oregon OSHA will work together to ensure that school districts are meeting state standards for reducing risk of transmission of COVID-19 in learning and working environment for students and staff.