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New reopening metrics released Friday are much looser and could allow grades K-6 to return soon

PMG FILE PHOTO - Under new metrics released Friday, Oct. 30, elementary students in Clackamas County could return to school in a hybrid format very soon.Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Department of Education on Friday morning released revisions to school reopening metrics, which means Clackamas County schools could reopen soon in a hybrid format for grades K-6.

Arguably the biggest changes in the new metrics are how COVID-19 cases are counted — counties must meet a benchmark over a two-week average, rather than meet it for three weeks in a row — and much higher case count and test-positivity benchmarks. The more lenient rules for elementary students also now include all elementary students, not just those in grades kindergarten through third grade.

To be in the "green zone" and bring back all K-12 students, a county now must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week average — or less than 30 total cases over that two-week span for small-population counties — and a county test positivity rate of 5%.

This is a significantly easier benchmark to meet than the old metrics — counties previously had to have 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents and a 5% or lower positivity rate to welcome back all students. It's also more lenient for the old benchmark for bringing back K-3 students, which was 30 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents.

The new metrics' "yellow zone" — where elementary can be taught in-person or hybrid, but the state recommends older students stay home — is a county case rate between 50 and 99.9 cases per 100,000 residents and a county test positivity rate between 5% and 7.9%. Small counties can have between 30 and 44 total cases in a two-week period.

In the yellow zone, middle school and high school should be primarily comprehensive distance learning until schools can demonstrate the ability to limit transmission in the school environment.

Counties reach the "orange" transitional zone if they have between 100 and 200 cases per 100,000 residents and a county test positivity rate between 8% and 10%. Small counties can have between 45 and 60 total cases.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Under new metrics released Friday, Oct. 30, elementary students in Clackamas County could return to school in a hybrid format very soon.

The new metrics leave Clackamas County in the yellow zone, with the test positivity rate rising past 5% to 5.1% on Oct. 18. However, the county has spent the last 26 weeks with fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents (which puts two-week totals at less than 100) and 24 of the last 26 weeks with a test positivity rate less than 5%.

However, according to a letter from Canby Schools Superintendent Trip Goodall, Canby schools must also take Marion County rates into account, which are higher, since 14% of its staff live there.

"We know you will have a lot of questions about these changes and what they mean for your student," Goodall said. "We will be spending the next few days determining how these revisions to the metrics will impact school operations. We have a lot of details to finalize and will provide an update next week."


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