Public Health addresses school closure
The message delivered by Jefferson County Public Health's Michael Baker was not what the School Board had hoped to hear. "Moving forward, based on the data, I do not foresee even an ability to open by the end of the calendar year." Baker went on to add that given the current metrics for opening provided by the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority, Jefferson County was far from meeting the measurements to demonstrate that the COVID-19 virus was not rapidly spreading throughout the community.
According to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidelines, in order to reopen schools for in-person instruction, schools in Jefferson County would have to meet the following:
Total county COVID-19 cases in the last three weeks is =30, with less than half of cases (or =5 cases) reported in the last week of the three-week period.
The Local Public Health Authority indicates that there is not community spread in the school catchment area.
In considering community spread, public health should take into consideration the cases in the community, COVID-19 test availability in the community, recent percent positivity of tests, capacity in the community to respond to cases and outbreaks and the regional hospital capacity available for those with severe disease.
The public or private school has an enrollment of =250 total with no more than 10% of the students live outside the school's catchment area (students outside the catchment area include interdistrict and intradistrict transfers) and the school may not accept new transfers from outside its catchment area (it must continue to serve all students within its boundaries).
The school fully complies with sections 1-3 of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance and students cannot be part of any single cohort, or part of multiple cohorts that is >50 people.
With active COVID-19 cases currently over 200, the county falls short of the minimum 30 cases in the last three weeks. Additionally, nearly 40% of all new COVID-19 cases are considered community spread with no single source identified during contact tracing and the epidemiological investigations. When looking at the recent numbers of COVID-19 cases, Jefferson County's age distribution differs from Central Oregon as a whole. Locally, children under 19 make up 30% of overall COVID-19 cases in comparison to just 18% for Central Oregon as a whole.
One of the concerns around opening local schools to in-person lessons is the availability of testing and testing supplies. With the State of Oregon, St. Charles Healthcare Systems, and local providers expressing concerns for the supply chain, an increase in cases could both overrun the testing ability as well as healthcare providers. While the hospitalizations rate has fluctuated during the last several weeks, Jefferson County continues to have the highest number of residents hospitalized due to COVID-19 and related complications. Additionally, Jefferson County's positivity rate has remained high in comparison to the state, reaching nearly 20%.
Jefferson County is currently working with the smaller school districts on identifying best practices for safely opening for in-person instructions. These school districts have less than 75 students, are rural and isolated, and have students that only live near the school district. Currently, ZIP code data shows no cases in these areas and limited interaction with the larger communities in Jefferson County. It is believed that by showing how a smaller school can open successfully, other schools can follow similar guidelines for a safe and healthy return. Jefferson County Public Health continues to meet weekly with local school districts to review the newest data and the impacts it has on reopening.
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