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Elementary vaccination rates remain low, ahead of end to mask mandate

A classroom in the Medford School District.
Erik Neumann
A classroom in the Medford School District.

Oregon's mask mandate will be lifted no later than Mar. 31. It includes elementary schools in Southern Oregon, where many young students aren’t vaccinated.

In Jackson county, the vaccination rate for children ages 5-11 is a little over 16%. In nearby Josephine, Klamath and Curry counties, that number hovers at around 11%.

Jackson County Public Health Medical Director Leona O'Keefe says parents shouldn’t worry yet.

“Fortunately with this long lead time with the masks coming off, families have the time to ask questions, talk to trusted medical providers and make a decision about vaccinating their children," O'Keefe says. "That’s the strongest thing that they can do to keep their children in school even if masks are not there.”

Vaccination rates in Jackson County, Oregon.
Oregon Health Authority
Vaccination rates in Jackson County, Oregon.

She also advises parents to use the next couple of months to have family discussions about mask-wearing.

“Be thinking about whether you want your child to still wear a mask in school,” says O’Keefe. “Just because the mask is not required, doesn’t mean your child can’t wear a mask.”

She says that one strategy for schools is student cohorting. It involves putting students into smaller groups that stay together throughout the day. That way, if a COVID infection occurs, only the small cohort has to quarantine, instead of the entire class.

The situation becomes more complicated with teachers. Earlier in the pandemic, unvaccinated teachers agreed to wear masks in exchange for being able to continue teaching, so it’s unclear how schools will proceed after the mandate is lifted.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.