Oregon education and health officials say if schools continue to organize extracurricular activities, “they should expect rapid transmission of COVID-19” which could prevent students from being able to attend in-person classes due to isolation and quarantine periods.
Oregon education and health officials issued the warning Monday in an advisory. Agencies say schools and organizations must either suspend extracurricular activities or ensure they follow specific COVID-19 safety protocols.
If schools choose to continue with extracurricular activities, agencies have said they need to clearly communicate potential risks to families.
The message from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority comes as schools across the state begin new terms and the omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.
“It’s about trying to continue to ensure that our students can attend school in person every day,” ODE director Colt Gill told OPB on Monday.
Gill said schools continue to apply mitigation efforts they have already used – including wearing appropriate face coverings, following physical distancing guidelines, frequent hand washing and using systems ventilation.
The new notice encouraged schools to implement free COVID-19 testing programs.
Seattle public schools closed schools on Monday to offer voluntary COVID-19 testing to staff and students amid a wave of new omicron cases. The ODE said Oregon is not considering something similar.
The ODE and OHA advice also encouraged schools to re-train school staff on safety protocols, as well as educate employees, students and families about the symptoms of COVID-19. But the biggest change suggested in the advisory concerns activities beyond the school day.
“[W]We really asked our schools and other organizations that serve students to really think about their extracurricular activities, ”said Gill.
This includes either suspending extracurricular activities or ensuring they use the same safety protocols that are in place during the school day, such as face coverings.
“We know these mitigation efforts are working and have prevented the spread of COVID-19, but we don’t often use them in extracurricular activities such as sports, and we’re really concerned to see rapid transmission in those contexts unless communities come together and use the same kinds of protocols that we use during the school day after school day, ”said Gill.
Agencies are also asking families and community members to do their part to ensure that schools can continue to teach and learn in person. Namely, the ODE and the OHA are urging parents to keep students home if they show symptoms of COVID-19. Agencies are also encouraging families and children to get and get vaccinated against COVID-19, and to limit non-essential activities and gatherings.
“The spread in the community is what can cause a school to close in-person teaching and return to online learning for a short time,” said Gill. “The more communities can do to ensure that individuals are vaccinated and boosted, so they are less likely to spread COVID-19 from person to person, or the less likely they are to have need the services of a hospital and really tax this system – it will help keep our school staff and students safe and get them in-person instruction. “
ODE communications director Marc Siegel said the agency does not have plans for a return to distance education statewide, like what happened at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. But, individual school districts will be able to make this call themselves if necessary.
“For each school district, it’s a decision of the local school district, taken in coordination with the local health authority,” Siegel told OPB.
This story was originally published by Oregon Public Broadcasting.