Oregon officials asked schools to prioritize in-person learning amid rising COVID-19 infections by monitoring spread of disease in their community and absenteeism, offering testing and recommending or even mandating masks before moving to remote learning.
In effect through Aug. 31, the state’s health advisory also recommends universal masking if a school is in a county where the federally defined risk level is “high.” No Oregon counties have reached that level, though six, including the three metro area counties, are in the “medium” risk level.
The state’s warning comes amid rising coronavirus cases, a previously predicted bump brought on by the highly infectious omicron BA.2 subvariant and the lifting of mask restrictions. Hospitalizations are rising, too, and are predicted to peak around 320 within about a month.
Multnomah County this week recommended that everyone wear masks indoors for the next several weeks or until cases start to fall. One of the reasons, Health Officer Jennifer Vines said, was the rapid spread of cases in schools. As of Thursday afternoon, 121 Multnomah County schools had outbreaks, a county spokesperson said in an email, out of about 200 total. The state defines a K-12 outbreak as two or more cases where there is evidence of transmission in school.
Washington and Clackamas counties have so far opted to stick with a more tempered approach, urging people at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to consider wearing masks.
The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education also reminded schools that students or staff with COVID-like symptoms have to stay home, and asked families to not send their sick children to school and to seek a test and, if the children are eligible, to get them vaccinated.