Health advisory recommends suspending practices or reinstating masks; warns of ‘serious threat’ to in-person learning
As Oregon health and education agencies warn that the omicron variant of COVID-19 may have crippling effects on schools, the agencies have recommended a pause in after-school activities.
In a school health advisory on Monday, January 3, the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority identified the need for multi-level mitigation strategies like vaccinations, boosters, frequent hand washing, masks and distancing in schools “more critical now than at any time”. during this pandemic.”
State agencies are asking schools to suspend extracurricular activities or keep in place the same rules followed during the school day, such as wearing masks.
The use of diagnostic tests and vaccinations is also recommended if sports or other group activities continue.
“If schools and other organizations conduct extracurricular activities, especially as these activities move indoors and individuals are unmasked, they should expect rapid transmission of COVID-19 which will prevent students from participating in in-person learning due to isolation for those who contract COVID -19 and lengthy quarantines for those who come into close contact with infected individuals,” the health warning message warns. “This risk must be clearly communicated to families participating in these extracurricular activities.”
The recommendation comes as school sports, music and theater performances have fully resumed, with in-person spectators at live events.
In the same advisory, state agencies simultaneously advocated for a “shorter” quarantine period of seven days after exposure to the coronavirus, to keep students and educators in the classroom as much as possible.
This is different from the recently updated CDC guidelines for shorter quarantine periods. State agencies said they are consulting with the CDC to find out what the new guidelines mean for schools.
Under current guidelines, if a student or staff member has symptoms of COVID-19 or is in close contact with an infected person, they should stay home. A new testing protocol to stay due to come into effect this month would allow them to return to school on the eighth day of quarantine, provided they test negative five to seven days after exposure.
“As Oregon fully experiences the impacts of the omicron variant over the next several weeks, student access to in-person instruction is at serious risk,” the health advisory states. “While early data indicates that the Omicron variant may cause less severe disease than previous variants, it is increasingly clear that the omicron variant spreads much more quickly and easily than all previous variants.”
The OHA and ODE are urging school districts to partner with health care providers to offer vaccination clinics and encourage eligible students to get vaccinated.
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