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Officials warn that a holiday spike in COVID-19 cases could delay a hoped-for reopening in local districts

South Columbia County schools are aiming for a Jan. 4 reopening for hybrid in-person and online instruction, but district officials caution that the holidays could easily bring a spike in COVID-19 cases and prevent reopening.

"After careful review of the new information and metrics — and in close coordination with the Columbia County Public Health Department — we are aiming to reopen for in-person hybrid instruction on Jan. 4 based on guidance from our Local Public Health Authority, but only if we can keep our health metrics sufficiently low," St. Helens Superintendent Scot Stockwell and Scappoose Superintendent Tim Porter wrote in a joint letter to families on Nov. 12.

New COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically statewide. On Thursday, Nov. 12, the state announced 1,122 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19.

Public health authorities have said that indoor social gatherings have driven the increase in cases.

Analysis from public health leaders across the state, including the Columbia County Public Health Department, has shown that many new COVID-19 cases are tied to small gatherings where the recommended safety measures were not followed, according to a press release from Columbia County.

School and county leaders are urging residents to comply with public health guidance. Face coverings are required in indoor public spaces and, if 6 feet distance from others is not possible, outdoors.

Officials are urging Oregonians to limit the number of people they spend time with outside of their household, keep gatherings short, stay 6 feet away from individuals they don't live with, wash hands and disinfect surfaces frequently and avoid touching surfaces.

Indoor social gatherings are limited to 10 people, except in counties that were recently placed on a two-week pause, where the limit is six people.

Multnomah and Washington counties are on the list of counties put on a two-week pause due to growing COVID-19 case numbers. Columbia County isn't on a pause but could be impacted by rates in those neighboring counties, as many school employees commute from outside the county.

"We urge our communities to stay safe and vigilant, especially during the upcoming holiday season. Right now, we are very close to falling into a level of health metrics that would result in a recommendation from public health to halt reopening plans," Stockwell and Porter wrote.

"Our public health department monitors neighboring counties' testing and hospital capacity to help us decide whether or not it's safe to open since we rely on these regional systems," the two superintendents continued.

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