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Oregon schools stick with original quarantine period despite recent CDC change

Students gather in front of Kellogg Middle School on September 1, 2021. The school is one of two newly opened in Portland Public Schools.
Elizabeth Miller
Students gather in front of Kellogg Middle School on September 1, 2021. The school is one of two newly opened in Portland Public Schools.

The CDC recently shortened the recommended time for people to quarantine if they contract COVID-19 but the state's public schools and universities are waiting to hear from the Oregon Health Authority on whether the state will adhere to that change.

Public schools and colleges in Oregon are sticking with their current procedures, despite a decrease in COVID-19 quarantine and isolation times recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC announced Monday that people who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate themselves for only five days if they are not showing any symptoms. That cuts in half the federal agency’s earlier recommendation of 10 days.

Although the CDC has announced that recommendation for the general population, it has not made any specific recommendations for schools or other special settings such as long-term care facilities.

The Oregon Health Authority shared its most recently updated guidelines with local public health authorities Wednesday evening — including the adoption of the CDC’s shortened isolation and quarantine periods for the general public. But OHA noted that sections regarding schools were not yet updated, pending further guidance from the CDC.

Dr. Jennifer Vines with the Multnomah County Health Department told OPB that CDC guidance for quarantine and isolation periods in schools could be coming as soon as next week.

Oregon universities and school districts are adhering to state guidance ahead of the next term, which starts Monday for most schools. But without clear guidance specifically for schools, districts such as Beaverton and Portland Public Schools continue to mandate the longer 10-day isolation and quarantine periods in policies listed on their web sites.

The Oregon Department of Education last month implemented a “test-to-stay” program in which schools can provide COVID-19 tests to unvaccinated students who have been exposed to the virus and are asymptomatic. Students who test negative two times in a seven-day period will be allowed to remain in school rather than required to quarantine at home.

Vaccinated K-12 students do not need to quarantine if they are not experiencing any symptoms after a COVID-19 exposure.

Beaverton School District earlier this month announced its adherence to those new test-to-stay plans, which will be effective starting Monday.

“We have no plans to change our new quarantine plans,” Beaverton School District Public Communications Officer Shellie Bailey-Shah told OPB. “[Oregon Department of Education] would need to change its guidance for us to consider.”

When asked about any changes to its plans, the Oregon Department of Education directed OPB to OHA, which has not yet announced any new guidance for schools since the CDC’s change.

Oregon’s largest universities are also waiting for state guidance before making any changes to their quarantine and isolation plans.

“[W]e understand that OHA’s guidelines of 10 days remain in effect, even while CDC’s guidelines have been reduced,” Oregon State University spokesperson Steve Clark said. “Since we are bound by the OHA, our communications have cited that the state of Oregon’s requirements will be followed. If they change, we certainly will follow them.”

Both University of Oregon and Portland State University have also maintained their existing quarantine and isolation policies, but officials said they are awaiting any changes that could come from OHA.

While education leaders in the state are waiting on OHA guidance to potentially relax quarantine and isolation rules, some of Oregon’s largest universities have moved ahead to tighten other areas of its COVID-19 policies, in light of evolving information from national authorities.

Most recently, UO, OSU and Southern Oregon University announced that students and staff will be required to get COVID-19 boosters as part of their vaccination requirements.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.