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District will continue extracurricular activities, sports while following existing health, safety guidelines

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County School District will continue its extracurricular activities and sports while following its existing health and safety guidelines.

In a Jan. 3 letter to families of the Crook County School District, Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson addressed the challenges and impacts of the new Omicron variant to students and how it may affect in-person learning, activities, sports and daily student life.

"As we enter 2022, thank you for your perseverance and resilience as we face the challenges of the newest COVID-19 Omicron variant," Johnson began. "We don't know yet how Omicron will impact our staff and children directly, but health experts tell us that the peak will likely occur sometime at the end of January. While Omicron is said to spread more easily, so far symptoms are more mild than with Delta and the good news is that Oregon Health Sciences University downgraded its forecast for hospitalizations. It appears children under five years of age might be more susceptible to the virus, but there isn't enough data to know exactly how it will impact the K-12 population." 

As Oregon's education and health agencies warn that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may have crippling impacts on schools, the agencies recommended the pause of extracurricular activities.

In a joint school health advisory Monday, January 3, the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority called the need for layered mitigation strategies like vaccinations, boosters, frequent hand washing, masks and distancing at schools "more critical now than at any other time during this pandemic."

The state agencies are asking schools to either pause extracurricular activities or keep the same rules in place that are followed during the school day, like wearing masks.

The use of diagnostic testing and vaccinations is also recommended, if sports or other group activities continue.

Johnson indicated that the North Star that has guided them since the beginning of the pandemic was to prioritize in-person learning and maintain safety protocols that reduce the risk of infection and keep students and staff as safe as possible.

"I believe our COVID-19 Safety Plan, developed in collaboration with the Crook County Health Department, remains effective and will help us navigate this newest surge," Johnson went on to say in her letter to parents. "We'll remain vigilant and make adjustments if necessary as we look to local medical professionals for feedback. At this point, there are no plans to move to distance learning or reduce our after-school programs, activities, or sports competitions. It's business as usual as we enter 2022 and the second half of the school year."

Johnson pointed out that there are two important updates to the district's COVID-19 Safety Plan. First, CCSD has officially adopted the state's Test-to-Stay program, which allows students or staff exposed to a positive case to remain in school if testing negative. Only school nurses can administer the test and a follow up test is required five-to-seven days after the initial exposure. Students will only get tested if granted permission by a parent or guardian. If any student or staff develops symptoms after the first test, they will still need to quarantine regardless of vaccination status.

"We believe this will help reduce quarantines, while still prioritizing safety," Johnson added.

The other update to the district's COVID-19 Safety Plan is that the Oregon Health Authority has adopted the new five-day quarantine guidelines recently approved by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"This means that even if students or staff are quarantined, the duration will be shorter. There will likely be overlap with existing quarantine requirements, so please be patient as our nurses transition to the new guidelines," said Johnson.

"As Oregon fully experiences the impacts of the Omicron variant over the next several weeks, student access to in-person instruction is under serious threat," the health advisory went on to state. "While early data indicate that the Omicron variant may result in less severe disease than previous variants, it is increasingly clear that the Omicron variant spreads much more quickly and easily than all previous variants."

The OHA and ODE are urging school districts to partner with healthcare providers to offer vaccine clinics and encourage eligible students to get their shots.

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