State education agency OKs rapid testing for students after COVID-19 exposure to avoid quarantine

The Oregon Department of Education recently gave school districts a green light to bypass the quarantine process for students who are exposed to COVID-19 at school. Using a Test to Stay model starting in January, Portland Public Schools will allow students to continue coming to school, even after being exposed to the virus, as long as they test negative for COVID-19.

PMG FILE PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Middle school students enter classes during the first day back in September. Starting in January, Portland Public Schools will allow students exposed to the coronavirus to continue coming to school as long as they test negative for COVID-19.
Until recently, protocols required students to quarantine at home for 10 days following an on-campus exposure to COVID-19, unless they were vaccinated.

"With low in-school transmission of COVID-19, Portland Public Schools has been exploring how to increase students' classroom time during this pandemic," a district announcement stated. "We are pleased to announce that we are finalizing the use of a Test to Stay model to augment our vaccination efforts in schools."

Students who were exposed to the virus at school now will be given onsite rapid testing on specified days for two weeks following the exposure. Students who are asymptomatic and have negative test results may continue coming to school rather than quarantining.

The Portland school district recently considered a vaccine mandate for students, but later abandoned plans for a school board vote, citing guidance from health experts and a steady rise in vaccination rates among students.

Parents have been calling for a testing program to avoid student quarantines since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

The state education agency announced the launch of the testing program Nov. 23, noting, "an adequate and stable COVID-19 test kit supply has been acquired for all public and private schools in the state to be able to implement Test to Stay protocols."

That same day, the state also announced the end of outdoor mask requirements. Oregonians are no longer advised to wear masks outdoors during large public gatherings, and it's now up to school districts to decide whether students should continue to wear masks outdoors in crowded settings.

The Oregon Health Authority announced the end of the outdoor mask rule was fueled by "overall progress Oregon has made to curb new infections and stabilize hospitalizations."

With the Test to Stay program rolling out, PPS students are advised to sign a consent form online or on campus, which allows them to receive a BinaxNOW COVID-19 test if needed. Students younger than 15 will need parent or guardian consent.

The district reinforced its plea for students and families to get vaccinated and get booster shots, noting the new testing program is intended for unvaccinated students in schools, where indoor mask requirements remain in effect.

During recent vaccine clinics hosted at select PPS campuses, 687 shots were administered, with 501 of them going to students ages 5 to 11.

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