Schools opened and have remained open this fall, even though COVID-19 still makes people nauseous in Oregon communities. But COVID-19 is also affecting schools, including students and staff who do not have the virus, as close contact and exposures to positive cases lead to quarantines, which move people in and out. outside the school.
Oregon Department of Education director Colt Gill sees two solutions to this:
“One is that more students are getting vaccinated,” said Gill. Currently, students aged 12 and over are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine eligibility for students aged 5 to 11 may soon arrive, but the FDA has yet to be approved.
Vaccinated and asymptomatic students can stay in school.
The other solution, said Gill, is what’s called “test to stay.” This program means that students who test negative for COVID-19 can stay in school. Oregon health officials said last month they were considering it, but at an Oregon State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Gill said Oregon had to get there – starting with a more consistent quarantine policy across all counties.
“I’m working with the Oregon Health Authority to try to streamline this and to move frankly to a test-to-stay policy, where students and staff are regularly tested for COVID-19 if they become close contact and can stay in. school if those tests are negative, ”said Gill.
“Testing to Stay” is different from the current testing efforts that schools may offer. A large number of schools offer diagnostic tests for students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19. A smaller number of schools have signed up to offer drug testing, giving schools a broader idea of the presence of COVID-19 by testing students and staff who are symptom-free. This program is voluntary for schools and families.
Test-to-stay faces a capacity issue
But the ODE and OHA have both said there was something holding Oregon back from “testing to stay”: a stockpile of rapid test kits, which they say Oregon does not have. .
“We are working hard to let the federal government know that we need more access to these kits, we know they are working on accessing these kits, and as soon as they become available in Oregon, it’s that’s where we’re heading, ”said Gill.
Oregon Health Authority officials also said there was a staffing issue with the implementation of the test to stay.
“Some schools have expressed interest, but the majority of K-12 schools in Oregon have expressed concerns about staffing and implementing such a program with the resources they have. have, “OHA officials said in a statement to the OPB.
In the meantime, Gill would like to see more counties push for shorter quarantine periods. Currently, there are a few options that Oregon counties use from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: a 14-day full quarantine, 10-day quarantine, or 7-day quarantine with a negative test result 48 hours before back to school.
But ultimately, that decision is up to local public health authorities, with different counties adopting different quarantine policies. Gill said several counties, including Linn and Coos counties, have implemented the 7-day policy.
“It’s a real plus,” said Jeff Philley, principal of Coquille Junior Senior High School, of his 7-day quarantine in Coos County. But Philley would like to have a test to stay in her school.
“What we want to do is eliminate the seven days altogether … we want to get to where, if a student is in close contact and comes back to school the next day with a negative test.”
Like the drug tests, Gill said the “test to stay” would be voluntary for families. If the program makes it to Oregon, Gill wants to see it widely adopted, with parents choosing to keep their children in school.
“My goal in implementing this in Oregon is for it to be widely used through incentives or requirements so that we have an equitable approach to access to education for all of our students,” Gill said.
“So what we don’t want to happen is that in some parts of the state full quarantines are in place, and in other parts of the state students don’t have to. never quit school if they are negative. “
Other states and schools have implemented the test to stay, including Massachusetts. Gill said the governor’s office had been in contact with officials there.
The test as a possible solution to the “social penalty” of COVID
In Coquille, Philley and school staff grapple with a complicated social dynamic around the disruption caused by testing positive for COVID-19. Philley said families do not share positive COVID-19 test results because there is a stigma attached. He said it was not a “healthy place” for his school.
“Students who … could possibly be positive for COVID right now are not going to their doctors, they are not getting tested because the social penalty for being a student who keeps their class at home is too heavy. Said Philley.
Students who are not feeling well stay sick at home. And there aren’t as many cases shared or reported to the local health authority.
“The cases are swept under the carpet,” said Philley.
Philley said the test to stay might help.
“If a student tests positive for COVID, that single student goes home, but everyone stays, so you don’t have to pay that social penalty anymore,” he said.
ODE director Gill said he understands the family’s frustrations with the constant emails or messages about quarantines, but it won’t be that way forever.
“Schools also want kids to go to school, everyone is working towards that goal, but we have to do it in a way where we can make sure it’s safe for everyone in this environment.” , said Gill.
“Right now we have these quarantine protocols in place with partnerships with local public health authorities, but as soon as we can make that change, we will move in that direction as quickly as possible. “