What a difference a month makes. When the calendar first flipped to August, the possibility of local children starting the school year in the classroom looked rather bleak. Gov. Kate Brown had released new metrics that counties would have to meet before kids could return to school buildings. At the time, just one of 36 counties, Wheeler, met the benchmark for all grades. Crook County was one of few counties that initially met the threshold for K-3 in-person education, but a spike in cases prompted the local school district to preemptively rule that option out in mid-August.
Since the start of the month, a lot has gone right. Numbers are steadily dropping statewide, and county numbers have done the same – so much so that a metric once viewed as difficult, if not impossible, to attain is now within our grasp.
Local educators greenlighted in-person education for K-3 last week and later that same week, school board members gathered to discuss a target date to bring grades 4-12 back to the classroom. As of press deadline, Crook County had met the metrics for two consecutive weeks and data from the critical third week awaited release. If it again falls within the state-mandated threshold, the county is officially eligible for all grades to return to school.
While that data and targeted opening date was not known at press time, what is certain is that the situation remains maddeningly fluid. Numbers that look good now could dramatically change in just a week or two.
The good news is kids will be allowed to stay in school, once they return, unless there is a high surge of COVID for two weeks or more. This provision thankfully prevents kids from attending school one week only to return to distance learning the next.
But that does not mean Crook County is out of the woods by any stretch. If there is an outbreak and the numbers climb, students return to home-based online school until case totals again fall under established thresholds.
Ultimately, that puts the onus on all county residents to stay vigilant, particularly when it comes to recommended hygiene. While masks are essentially required in businesses, at schools and in most public places, people are still on their own when it comes to keeping their hands clean, staying home if they get sick, and limiting travel and exposure to large crowds. What Crook County residents are doing is working, so now is not the time to let down our guard.
In addition, as kids return to school and regularly mingle with other kids, it becomes more important than ever to reinforce good hygiene habits. Yes, students of every age will be required to mask up at school, but they still need to keep their hands clean, and parents must keep them out of class if they come down with COVID-like symptoms. The fact is these habits are good under any circumstances.
So, while COVID is still unpredictable, local residents can perhaps keep Crook County numbers low and kids in school by staying vigilant. We are headed in the right direction and hopefully we can keep it that way.
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