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State says COVID-19 protocols up to school districts; Bend-La Pine keeps one-party mask recommendation

(Update: adding video, comments from OHA and ODE)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The 2022-23 school year in Oregon will see limited Covid-19 precautions, compared to the past two years.

This, according to Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority, due in part to low Covid-19 positivity rates and hospitalizations rates in the state.

“Overall, Covid-19 positive patients in hospitals and in the ICU remain far below the peaks we saw during the delta peaks a year ago and the initial Omicron surges this past winter,” Sidelinger said at a media briefing Wednesday before the school year begins.

During an Oregon Health Authority and state Department of Education joint news conference, Colt Gill, the director of ODE, announced that Covid-19 procedures will be up to individual school districts.

“This year, nearly all health protocols will be locally determined,” Gill said. 

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ended its recommendations for social distancing, quarantining when exposed but not infected, and contact tracing outside of medical buildings.

“So the CDC guidance right now is very much in line with the ODE and OHA guidance that was released in the spring,” Sidelinger said. 

Gill emphasized it won't look the same for everybody.

“Each school district may implement a little bit differently, because they have that local decision making authority to do so,” Gill said. 

For Bend-La Pine Schools' Covid mitigation plan, it said:

“The school year will start the way we ended, continuing our layered mitigation strategies, which include recommended one-way masking. Additional layered COVID mitigation strategies will be added as necessary if outbreaks occur.”

Gill noted an outbreak is something schools need to be prepared for.

“Those may change from time to time as we see different variants come and go from different communities in Oregon,” Gill said. 

Here is a summary of the full news conference from the two agencies:

The Oregon Health Authority and state Department of Education held an online media briefing Wednesday afternoon to provide updates on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to ensure Oregon schools can maintain in-person instruction during the 2022-2023 school year.

Dean Sidelinger, M.D. MSEd, health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, noted hospitalizations of COVID-19-positive patients have continued to decline since July. He also encouraged Oregon families to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations, along with routine childhood immunizations, to protect their children as they prepared to head back to classrooms.

“The immunization schedule is designed to provide immunity early in life, before children are likely to be exposed to diseases,” said Sidelinger.

Sidelinger also provided a fall vaccine update. Pending federal and state approvals, he said, Oregon should expect to receive supplies of bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters this fall from both Pfizer and Moderna. The bivalent vaccines have been designed to target BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants and the original strain.

Sidelinger also encouraged all eligible residents to get boosted: “OHA’s message to anyone who is eligible for a booster is simple — if you are eligible, get your booster now and do not wait until the fall.”

Colt Gill, director of ODE, outlined what families and students can expect with COVID-19 planning and in-person instruction for the academic year.

“As we head into the coming year, we are holding strong to our North Star goal of providing equitable access to in-person instruction all day, every school day, for every student,” said Gill.

Gill also highlighted resources for K-12 schools available from ODE. These include COVID-19 planning documents, the Care and Connection tools and Oregon Classroom WISE, a suite of free print and video resources, guided tutorials, role plays, and interviews with youth and school personnel to support the mental and emotional well-being of students and school staff.

Here are the talking points from Wednesday’s media availability. You can also watch it here.

The briefing comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced the nation should move away from restrictive measures such as quarantines and social distancing and focus on reducing severe disease from Covid-19.

In new guidelines released last Thursday, the agency no longer recommends staying at least 6 feet away from other people to reduce the risk of exposure — a shift from guidance that had been in place since the early days of the pandemic.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus
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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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