The reopening of local schools remains the focus for Jefferson County Public Health's COVID-19 response. Having a vibrant and inclusive school system is essential for a healthy community. However, as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, children remain one of the highest case rates in Jefferson County. To date, children under the age of 19 have made up approximately 30% of the overall COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County. By comparison, children under 19 account for only 18% in all of Central Oregon and only 15% for the entire state of Oregon. With the high case rates, school officials and Public Health staff are working closely to ensure that when schools reopen, it is as safe as possible.
Newly added in the most recent updates were some allowances for very small schools to open to in-person instruction regardless of the overall COVID-19 cases through the rest of the county. If the school district has an enrollment of less than 75 students, the local public health authority may work with the district to establish the criteria to open the to in-person instruction. Locally, this section would apply to Ashwood School District and the Black Butte School District in Camp Sherman. By working together, the schools and local health authority must be able to demonstrate:
? There is not community spread in the school catchment area.
? There is not community spread in the communities that serve as the primary employment and community centers (for shopping and other in-person services) and the school is isolated by a significant distance from communities reporting COVID-19 community spread in the previous
? 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.
Right now, it appears that the Ashwood School District meets the criteria outlined in the Oregon Department of Education's Ready Schools, Safe Learners (Version 3.7.5) guidance document and is planning on opening for in-person classes. Black Butte School is still working with Jefferson County Public Health on offering some form of in-person, but limited, instruction, and is finalizing their plans as well.
In order to support the reopening of schools, Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners approved $20,000 to K-12 schools. The flexible funds may be used for Chromebooks, WiFi, assisting parents, personal protective equipment, disinfecting equipment/supplies, after/during school programs, or community groups supported by the schools.
"The county really needs to offer these flexible funds to the schools, too much of their funding comes from Salem with strings attached," said Commissioner Wayne Fording.
"We are hopeful that our schools will reopen soon, but until that happens, we want to provide some financial help to the K-12 system to fill some gaps," Commissioner Kelly Simmelink said.
"The school boards are in the best position to know how to help families during these transitional times. It would not be useful for Jefferson County to attempt to start a duplicate grant program," Commissioner Mae Huston said.
Last week, Gov. Kate Brown emphasized the importance of reopening schools. During the press conference, Gov. Brown stressed the importance of local leadership across the state to do more to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and help in the reopening of schools. Calling on local justifications and business, Brown asked for an immediate increase in proactive local enforcement efforts and improved implementation of current mitigations strategies. If not, the governor mentioned additional restrictions may be placed on local communities and businesses. As Jefferson County remains on the watchlist, we encourage the community to be kind, and considerate of those around you. The health, safety and well-being of all students, teachers, staff, and their families are the most important consideration in determining whether schools should reopen for in-person learning.
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