By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY. NEWS
Deschutes County will need to see a three-week stretch of fewer than 20 cases per week before it can re-open schools this fall for in-person instruction, based on new metrics announced Tuesday by Oregon education and health officials.
“If school were starting today, Bend-La Pine Schools would likely not be able to reopen in our physical buildings as we had planned,” Interim Superintendent Lora Nordquist said late Tuesday. “Instead, we would provide comprehensive distance learning for all students, with the possibility of some in-person instruction for students in K-3.”
State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said ultimate decisions will still be made by local school districts, but those decisions will be guided by local COVID prevalence.
“Today in Oregon we are not where we need to be to safely reopen schools,” he said in an afternoon news conference with Gov. Kate Brown.
County Metrics – metrics to be met three weeks in a row:
• Case rate: at or below 10 cases per 100,000 population in the preceding 7 days
• Test positivity: at or below 5% in the preceding 7 days
– and –
State Metric – metric to be met three weeks in a row
• Test positivity: at or below 5% in the preceding 7 days
Currently only one Oregon county meets those metrics – Wheeler County – where there are no known COVID cases.
“The metrics released today will give our public schools, private schools, and communities the opportunity to make sound decisions based on the latest science and health data,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “They make a clear connection between the spread of the disease in a community, and statewide, and when a school may resume, or must halt, in-person instruction.
Exceptions, including case counts up to 30/100,000 could allow K-3 students to return to the classroom sooner.
Deschutes County was well on its way to meeting the metrics to open until mid-June when case counts spiked. And over the last three weeks, the county’s cases/100,000 have been 54, 43 and 24.3 (based on a population of about 200,000 people.)
Many of the cases last week were tied to a nursing home outbreak, but it’s unclear whether the state would take that into consideration when looking at a county’s overall case counts.
According to new data from OHA, Crook County’s latest numbers show a case rate of 28.7/100,000 while Jefferson County’s numbers are 239/100,000.
Deschutes and Crook counties do meet the metrics for test positivity rates.
According to the OHA, Deschutes County’s most recent week’s test positivity rate was 4.6%, down from 7.5% from the week before.
Crook County was at 2.6%, but Jefferson County hasn’t met the 5% threshold since early June. Last week it was 17.5%.
Local school districts quickly updated families of the likely new plans.
Nordquist said the Bend-La Pine has been planning for the possibility of an all-online start to the school year, but they’re holding out hope for a reversal of the current COVID trends.
“Our community must come together to significantly decrease the spread of COVID-19 in Central Oregon,” she said. “We highly encourage you and our community to rally behind the reopening of schools by fully adhering to the State guidelines designed to halt the spread of the disease.”
Redmond Superintendent Charan Cline said the district was working to interpret the metrics.
“Schools are the foundation of our community and we know that there is nothing better than in-person instruction,” he said in an email to parents. “These new rules can be confusing and difficult for all of us.”
Oregon overall reports about 52.3/100,000 and a test positivity rate of about 5%.
But the state is seeing “glimmers of hope,” Sidelinger said.
“The total number of cases began to decrease in the last week, hospitalizations are leveling off and test positivity is declining. Models indicate transmission rates are beginning to decline,” he said in again urging Oregonians to wear masks and maintain social distancing. “We can’t relent. Especially as we all work together to get schools reopened and kids back in desks.”
ODE Director Colt Gill said online learning this fall will not look like it did in the spring when the move to online instruction happened virtually overnight.
He said the new online learning model would involve rigorous teacher training, family engagement, a common platform for students in each school, daily engagement between educators and students and more.
Brown also announced she would inject $28 million into the process to help school districts set up more wifi hot spots, buy new equipment and ensure equity of access for all students.
“Let me be clear, I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for kids,” Brown said. “I will push. I will cajole. I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators.”
“We can’t relent. Epecially as we all work together to get schools reopened and kids back in desks.”
– Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon State Health Officer
Local districts are busy creating their plans that right now call for in-person instruction, remote instruction, or a combination of the two.
The Bend-La Pine and Redmond school districts have released preliminary plans for fall that call for a full classroom experience for elementary students and a hybrid online/classroom experience for middle and high schoolers.
Other districts statewide are already making the call on a fully online experience.
Salem-Keizer announced Tuesday students in grades K-10 won’t attend in-person class until Nov. 16th at the earliest. Juniors and seniors will not attend school in person until at least February 2nd, 2021.
Portland and Beaverton schools also announced they won’t return to class until at least early November.
“Parents need to have confidence they will not have to risk their children’s health for the sake of their learning or their learning for the sake of health by sending their kids back to school,” Sidelinger said.