ONTARIO — As the push continues to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Kate Brown and leaders from throughout the state held a press conference on Tuesday outlining how they plan to kids in classrooms every day for full-time in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year.
Vaccines were touted by the governor and others joining her in the conference as one of the most effective ways to do this, with all eligible people tied to schools (including family members of children) being urged to get them.
With the deadline of Oct. 18 for individuals connected to schools, health care or state facilities, to get the vaccine or lose their job, the newspaper asked the governor about those who do not get vaccinated or produce an exemption by that deadline. Would they be eligible for unemployment?
“I suspect it would be on a case by case basis, and it certainly depends on particular circumstances with employers,” Brown said. “But generally speaking, it is my understanding that they will not be eligible.”
Successful slow of delta variant
Brown and State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, both stated that data indicates the virus may be slowing down, but urge people to remain vigilant.
Brown said the promising news was that after recently having hit record-breaking numbers of positive cases, the projected length of the surge could be shorter than initially thought. Brown attributes the successful slow of the delta variant to people wearing masks and getting vaccinated, saying the virus was still “dangerous and unpredictable” for those who are not vaccinated, urging people not to let “misinformation stop you from protecting self and family
“Every action you take impacts how this plays out,” Brown said, adding that by know most people are likely to know someone who has gotten COVID or died from it.
Sidelinger said Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education continue to work together in order to provide safe in-person instruction for children.
Sidelinger stated that daily cases are at or near pandemic highs — even 13 times higher than the week ending July 4, but are down slightly compare to the past week. Additionally, while hospitals had reached a saturation point, before cases had started “receding slightly.”
Sidelinger urged schools to take advantage of free testing which includes weekly screen tests self-collected at home by staff and screening through an opt-in program for students.
Speaking of how weary people have grown in the pandemic, Dr. Dana Braner, physician-in-chief, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, stated that “it will take the entire state” taking initiative to slow the spread. Communities have “the absolute responsibility to protect our children — either our own or our neighbor’s,” he said, adding that people should at the very least consider “wearing a mask for the kid down the street.”
Wear a mask around school-age children
Brown noted that many people had mixed emotions about sending their children back to school full-time and ensured that plans are in place to help reduce the virus spread in the school setting.
Director of the Oregon Department of Education Colt Gill noted that the 2021-22 school year is the third that has been impacted by COVID, adding that like adults, children had experienced a lot of change and emotion, with some experiencing the suffering or loss of a family member of friend, and most experiencing at least some isolation from peers and trusted adults during the pandemic.
However, schools are a controlled setting where “people are used to following rules to keep everyone safe,” he said, emphasizing how well this worked in the 2020-21 year with face coverings, social distancing, cohorts, ventilation and other safety mechanisms that were put in place.
Stating that children learn better in person and have a need for social interaction for wellbeing and happiness, Gill stated that it will take action from the community to make it happen.
“If you are a student, family member, educator or anyone who comes into contact with school-age children, we need you to do your part to protect them this school year,” he said.
The state is placing trust in local school leaders, who have all set up plans for getting back to schools, which are available on school websites and at oregon.gov/readyschools.
Gill also urged people to wear a mask around anyone outside your household, especially anyone with or who works around school-age children. While staff may be vaccinated, he reminds people that they will be around unvaccinated children for the majority of the day.
Gill outlined five steps for people with children in school: 1. make a plan to vaccinate all eligible members in the household; 2. wear a mask in public and in carpools; 3. limit gatherings; 4. move gatherings to an outdoor setting; and 5. make plans incase school has to be missed.
‘Help us reach our north star’
The Oregon Department of Education issued its first school health advisory on Tuesday, which includes “additional steps to help us reach our north star.” These advisories are meant to help keep children in school “in person, all day, all year long,” and may be regional or statewide and change from time to time.
There are five health advisories in effect from Sept. 7 to Oct. 1 unless there are other updates, Gill said. The list follows.
1. All eligible youth and adults who come into contact with youth should get vaccinated to reduce the spread;
2. Those with students or those in other households should limit gatherings and non-essential activities or move them outdoors;
3. Schools and other organizations that serve youth should reduce extracurricular activities or consider hosting those outdoors;
4. Schools should hold family events, carnivals and open houses online if they are able to. If not, those events should be held outside with participants wearing masks and maintaining physical distance; and
5. Families should check their respective school website or ODE’s safe learner website to review their school’s individual plan to keep students in class.
“Even as we push thru some of the darkest days … this fall can be a time of renewal for all of us,” Gill said.