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School district halts operations as COVID cases increase tenfold following winter break

COURTESY: GOOGLE MAPS - The North Clackamas School District administration building in Milwaukie is shown here. North Clackamas School District is closing all schools on Friday, Jan. 14, due to a surge in COVID-19-related staff shortages, per an email alert released by the district on Thursday afternoon.

COVID-19-related absences have increased district-wide among students and staff since operations resumed following winter break, with the district's weekly data report showing an increase from 20 students and staffers in isolation, with one in quarantine as of Dec. 31, to at least 293 students and staffers in isolation and 80 students and staff members in quarantine as of approximately Jan. 7. The number of employees in isolation was 143 during the last two weeks, versus 86 the first four whole months of the school year.

Seth Gordon, director of communications and public relations for the district, said the outbreak reached a tipping point on Thursday and a one-day closure became the necessary next step.

"We were stretched fairly, fairly thin already, and then looking forward to staffing tomorrow, there was a enough of an increase in absences that kind of put us over the over the threshold of being able to operate safely," said Seth Gordon, director of communications and public relations for the district.

Gordon said the district intends to return to in-person operations on Tuesday, Jan. 18, anticipating that staff and students will have time to isolate and quarantine during Friday's closure and throughout the ensuing long weekend in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day the following Monday.

"We're still at this point planning on opening for in-person learning on Tuesday," Gordon said, adding that the four days "would represent a lot of staff being able to return because of either quarantine or isolation."

If operations remain unable to resume in-person on Tuesday due to continued widespread absences, Gordon said district officials will adapt and make decisions based upon the situation at hand, which may include a "move to distance learning on a temporary basis."

Since schools resumed operations on Jan. 4, the district-wide surge in COVID-19 cases has taken NCSD multiple extra days to track and compile into the district's usual weekly online statistical report, Gordon said.

As a disclaimer in the data report explains: "Due to a large increase in the number of reports of illness received by the district, the initial data for the week ending Jan. 7 is not as complete or accurate (as of Monday, Jan. 10) as it normally would be."

Gordon said NCSD will be updating the online tracker Thursday afternoon with an interim data report.

For further information, visit NCSD's website here. For resources related to NCSD closures, click here.

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