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End to quarantines, contact tracing among changes in new Oregon guidance for schools, starting March

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Elizabeth Miller
/
OPB

New guidance from the Oregon Department of Education released Wednesday gives schools a better idea of how to operate once the statewide mask mandate lifts March 12.

Beginning March 12, Oregon will end contact tracing and quarantine for the “general population,” including in schools. New procedures for schools are outlined in an updated resiliency framework, released Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Education.

With the recent announcement handing decision-making authority over masks to local school leaders, ODE’s guidance provides information on new quarantine, contact tracing, and testing protocols for schools. The new guidance is set to be in effect through the end of the school year.

Education and health officials say that contact tracing efforts lag transmission of the coronavirus, and Oregon has “very high levels” of immunity due to vaccines and COVID-19 cases. Officials say the duration of immunity is unknown.

With hospitalizations rapidly declining in Oregon, the end of the statewide mask mandate has changed twice — first from March 31 to March 19, then again most recently to March 12.

Gov. Kate Brown announced the new March 12 date in cooperation with leaders in Washington and California.
Instead of contact tracing, schools are “strongly encouraged” to notify student groups when an exposure occurs. ODE defines a COVID-19 exposure as “unmasked indoor close contact with someone with COVID-19 within six feet for 15 or more minutes.”

“Test-to-stay” testing available to schools will now move to only testing certain students and staff, including those at higher risk of severe COVID-19.

This follows new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance shared Monday.

Another recent change: masks will not be required on school buses when the state mask mandate ends. That aligns with a recent change from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidance also lists “primary” and “non-primary” COVID-19 symptoms, with ODE encouraging anyone with “primary” symptoms to get tested and stay home from school. Primary symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath. Non-primary symptoms include headache, sore throat and fatigue.

Despite the end of the mandate, ODE and the Oregon Health Authority continue to “strongly advise” universal masking as a way to reduce COVID-19 spread in order to “minimize the lost time learning in school due to illness” when county transmission levels are high.

While many school district leaders have indicated they will follow the state when the mask mandate ends, others have been waiting for ODE’s guidance before making a decision.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting