PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Oregon Health Authority said Friday it will release new COVID-19 contact tracing and notification recommendations for K-12 settings to lessen the overall burden of contact tracing on K-12 schools, while ensuring school staff and health officials continue tracing and reporting high-risk exposures.
Under the updated guidelines, to be released in the coming days, Oregon will no longer consider masked contact in K-12 settings, including school buses, to be an exposure, regardless of distancing. The updated guidance will strongly advise students and staff to maintain physical distancing to the greatest extent possible.
The new recommendations are based on accumulated evidence that layered mitigation efforts in K-12 schools have worked well to minimize transmission and that the vast majority of transmission has occurred following indoor unmasked contact.
The new guidance is expected to take effect Friday.
Officials say it’s a “common-sense” change to contact tracing and notification that will allow schools to focus resources on identifying high-risk, indoor, unmasked exposures most likely to result in transmission. In addition, schools will no longer be required to report negative antigen test results to OHA. Reporting of positive antigen test results will still be required.
Schools that employed universal masking in K-12 settings will continue to perform contact tracing for exposures that occur during unmasked lunchroom encounters, as well as unmasked extracurricular encounters.
The Oregon Department of Education strongly recommends all schools immediately develop stable lunch cohorts – table groups, lunch bunches and other group situations – where this is not already the practice.
If a case occurs within a lunch cohort, the entire lunch cohort group should be considered exposed. Similarly, when a case occurs in an indoor unmasked extracurricular cohort, the entire cohort may be considered exposed. Stable cohorts significantly reduce the burden of contact tracing, OHA said.
During this period of very high COVID-19 transmission in Oregon, school staff will continue to identify and report new cases among students and staff, which will result in more exposures. Exposed, fully vaccinated children and adults who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination series are not subject to quarantine and may continue to attend school.
Individuals exposed to COVID-19 at school remain eligible for "test-to-stay" and can continue to attend school during their modified quarantine period, OHA said.
In addition, support for members of school communities who test positive for COVID-19 can be accessed through the COVID-19 Case Support Hotline, 866-917-8881, or Positive COVID Test website. OHA is also identifying resources to add a school-specific support team to the hotline.