An Oregon Health Authority proposal says children going back to school for in-person learning will have to test themselves for COVID-19 if they turn up with symptoms or exposure to the disease.
Under proposed plans, a student would be handed a test kit and expected to perform the test themselves under the supervision of a "trained" member of the school staff.
"The proposed plan includes self-collection of nasal swabs under supervision of trained school personnel. It is for individuals with symptoms of COVID-19, or following an exposure," said Tim Heider, public information officer for the Oregon Health Authority.
Heider did not immediately respond to who in schools would be trained or who would do the training.
The proposal was discussed at a recent Gresham-Barlow School Board meeting and greeted with skepticism.
Director Kris Howatt said that at a meeting with state officials and educators where the student self-test plan was outlined, "we had a high level of disbelief that was going to be something that was actually going to be practical and possible."
Gresham-Barlow Superintendent Katrise Perera said that because of liability and other issues, "I would not volunteer our staff or students to participate in those types of things."
Perera said at another meeting of agency and school officials, the self-test proposal was "a bone of contention."
Portland Public Schools spokeswoman Karen Werstein said her district had no comment on this scenario.
Schools generally no longer have nurses on staff, and in Multnomah County, they must share nurses supplied by the Multnomah Education Service District.
Most Oregon students have been attending class at home since March 2020, as coronavirus spread. The state previously imposed strict metrics around infection rates to determine if schools could open. But on Dec. 23, Gov. Kate Brown abruptly changed course and said districts could determine for themselves when to open, but must still follow the 164 safety rules such as limiting daily contacts, mask wearing and social distancing.
If the student self-testing proposal is adopted by the state, that could be one of multiple roadblocks to getting students back in the classroom. Another issue is that many teachers and their unions are calling for 75% of school staff — including bus drivers, nutrition workers and education assistants — to be vaccinated before students come back to the classroom.
OHA estimates it will be mid-February before teachers will begin getting the preventative shots with the second shot given about a month after the first, pushing completed vaccines for school staff into mid-March. The rollout of vaccines statewide has been slower than anticipated, however, so timing for teachers could lag.
Teachers are in the state's vaccination group 1b and will receive their inoculations after health care workers, residents of nursing homes and other congregate care facilities, and others. As of Jan. 11, 99,627 people have been vaccinated for the virus in Oregon but less than 5,000 are fully vaccinated with the required two doses.
As of Monday, Jan. 11, COVID-19 has killed more than 1,600 Oregonians and infected more than 126,600.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.