Schools in the Winston-Dillard School District will remain open to on-site learning until at least Jan. 7, superintendent Kevin Miller announced at the school board meeting last Wednesday.
Although students at Brockway Elementary School, which is part of the Winston-Dillard School District, will not be in school this week after a staff member tested positive, the school district announced Monday evening.
“We are working very closely with local public health and at this time we are asking all students that were receiving in-person instruction to quarantine for 14 days,” Miller said about the most recent outbreak at Brockway. “There may be a few students that did not have close contact. If your child does not need to quarantine, or needs to quarantine for a shorter period, you will be notified by school officials.”
According to last year’s data, approximately 350 students attend Brockway Elementary School.
Throughout Douglas County, there have been at least 30 COVID-19 cases for students or staff at K-12 schools.
COVID-19 cases in Douglas County rose to 241.42 per 100,000 people over the last two-week period. This means the county continues to be placed in the Comprehensive Distance Learning educational model designed by state health and education leaders.
Miller said public health officials were expecting numbers to increase because of the Thanksgiving holiday and are expecting a similar surge about 10 to 14 days after Christmas.
However, schools that opened to on-site learning prior to Oct. 30 were able to remain open under the Safe Harbor Clause. Winston-Dillard School District chose to remain open, while others, including Roseburg Public Schools, Sutherlin School District and South Umpqua School District opted to transition to distance learning.
Schools that closed will be able to reopen to all grades once there are less than 50 cases per 100,000 people and the test positivity percentage is below 5%. The test positivity in Douglas County was at 4.84% for the two-week period ending Dec. 12.
School districts will be able to reopen elementary schools, up to sixth grade, if there are less than 100 cases per 100,000 people. And schools should plan for a transition if there are between 100 to 199 cases per 100,000 people.
If there are more than 200 cases per 100,000 people by Jan. 4, all schools will need to transition to comprehensive distance learning.
According to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance from the Oregon Department of Education, schools operating under the Safe Harbor Clause in a county that is in the Distance Learning metrics, “must transition to distance learning by January 4, 2021.”
State officials say the week of Jan. 4 can be used as a transition week.
“The guidance states that on January 4 if the district is in the red column — the distance learning category — they need to immediately transition. Colt (Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education) and ODE have consistently given the interpretation that ‘immediately’ equals within that week. The superintendent’s comment is in alignment with the interpretation given by ODE,” said Scott Nine, assistant superintendent of education innovation and improvement for the Oregon Department of Education.
Miller said the transition week would be used for children to get devices needed to learn from home. Camas Valley Charter Schools will also remain open during the week of Jan. 4, its superintendent Don Wonsley announced Monday.
Gill wrote to Miller that the Oregon Health Authority’s Senior Health Advisors are reviewing to extend the Jan. 4 date for Safe Harbor Clause.
“My assumption is districts, that are in-person, are trying to get it extended and want to stay open,” Miller said. “And they don’t know if they’re gonna do that.”
Research has shown that schools are not spreaders of COVID-19, which prompted the Medford School District started a resolution to get students back in the classroom. Something Miller pointed out during the school board meeting.
On Dec. 8, the state education department responded to that letter in writing by pointing out that schools are not exempt from COVID-19 and that an outbreak at a school often means more work for local health authorities due to the number of contacts.
“No one disputes that getting kids back in classrooms will improve students’ educational outcomes, as well as their social and emotional well-being,” Gill wrote. “But if we want to reopen schools and keep them open, we have to bring COVID-19 case rates down to safer levels.”
Winston-Dillard board member Brian West created a presentation for the school board, which showed the state hospitalization and death rates of COVID-19 by age, to show the possible impact on the school district.
Students would have a 0% chance of death due to COVID-19, while 82 staff members had a less than .6% chance of dying due to the coronavirus, 10 staff members had a 2.23% chance of death and two staff members had a 6.24% chance of death, according to West.
“I’m just stating that the kids right now ... we have no death in any of the kids. None,” West said. “They can’t do sports, they can’t do anything because we’ve locked him out of schools, they can’t even go and do their own thing.”
West also said distance learning would give students a poor education and negatively impact their social and emotional health.
Board member Curt Stookey pointed out that although the death rate may be low, there was no information about the long-term effects of COVID-19.
“When they get it, what’s the long term effect on these kids their lungs their hearts their livers?” he asked. “I mean you’re you’re not figuring that out on this piece of paper.”
He also objected to the way data was presented in regards to the teacher’s age.
“I don’t know why you spent time because to me it just sounds the way you’re talking that you’re saying that the teachers don’t matter because they’re in this age group,” Stookey said.
West said he just wanted to present the data and that he did not want anybody to die from the virus.
Construction managers at the high school advised the school district, that if education at Douglas High School transitioned to distance learning for the remainder of the school year demolition at the high school could start three months earlier and save the district approximately $190,000.
The school district will inform the public in January on how students will be educated.
A ZIP code level analysis of the rates of COVID-19 in different parts of Douglas County reveals that the highest rate of cases per capita is in the Canyonville area.
An outbreak at an assisted living center there, combined with the small overall population in ZIP code 97417 has put the Canyonville ZIP code at the top of the list.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, there have been 52 cases in the 97417 ZIP code area.
All but two of those are from Forest Hill Assisted Living in Canyonville according to the state’s weekly outbreak report, which lists the facility as having had 50 cases.
Managers at Forest Hill did not return The News-Review’s phone calls on Monday.
Forest Hill is not the only assisted living facility with a similar size outbreak in the county. And statewide, nursing homes are among the hardest hit places. But since the population in the 97417 Canyonville ZIP code area is just 2,439, that outbreak is enough to move the area to the top of the list.
In second place is Sutherlin’s 97479 ZIP code, where there have been 131 cases for a population of 9,505. That’s a rate of 1,378.2 cases per 100,000 people.
Sutherlin Mayor Todd McKnight said Monday he’s not aware of any specific sources of major outbreaks and he isn’t sure what’s led to the high rate there.
He said people in his town are taking precautions. People visiting local stores have masks on and he’s even noted people walking down the streets are wearing masks.
“I’ve seen some people looking at our Christmas trees, our displays in the park and they’ve got masks on. Even though they’re way past six feet social distancing, they’ve got masks on. I see people even driving in cars with masks on,” he said.
He said business are hurting though.
“It’s rough on folks trying to get creative with their businesses and hoping they can open back up and trying to be able to get through these times financially,” he said.
City government in Sutherlin has taken steps like staggering staff times at City Hall and has so far not had any outbreaks, he said, and the city’s budget is strong as well.
“We’re looking forward to the future and getting past this,” he said.
The Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team reported seven new cases Monday and 22 new cases Sunday.
It also reported one new death Sunday, bringing the county’s death toll to 30. No new deaths were reported Monday.
The death was an 88-year-old man who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to the hospital Nov. 30. He died Saturday. No additional information about the man was released.
No new Douglas County deaths were reported Monday.
Statewide, the Oregon Health Authority reported 1,180 new COVID-19 cases and six new deaths Monday. On Sunday, it reported 1,048 new cases and six new deaths.
Among Douglas County ZIP codes with populations large enough to be included in the state’s report, Glendale was the one with the lowest COVID-19 rate. It’s had just 10 cases for 2,232 people.
Here’s the detailed list of where Douglas County’s case rates by ZIP code stack up:
1. 97417 Canyonville. 52 cases. Population: 2,439. Rate: 2,132 cases per 100,000.
2. 97479 Sutherlin. 131 cases. Population: 9,505. Rate: 1,378.2 cases per 100,000.
3. 97462 Oakland. 46 cases. Population: 3,938. Rate: 1,168.1 cases per 100,000.
4. 97470 Roseburg. 222 cases. Population: 19,985. Rate: 1,110.8 cases per 100,000.
5. 97471 Roseburg. 314 cases. Population: 29,100. Rate: 1,079 cases per 100,000.
6. 97469 Riddle. 28 cases. Population: 2,596. Rate: 1,078.6 cases per 100,000.
7. 97467 Reedsport. 55 cases. Population: 5,339. Rate: 1,030.2 cases per 100,000.
8. 97457 Myrtle Creek. 104 cases. Population: 10,208. Rate: 1,018.8 cases per 100,000.
9. 97495 Winchester. 13 cases. Population: 1,450. Rate: 896 cases per 100,000.
10. 97496 Winston. 61 cases. Population: 7,634. Rate: 799.1 cases per 100,000.
11. 97443 Glide. 17 cases. Population: 2,232. Rate: 761.6 cases per 100,000.
12. 97435 Drain. 14 cases. Population: 2,349. Rate 596 cases per 100,000.
13. 97442 Glendale. 10 cases. Population: 2,232. Rate: 448 cases per 100,000.
Smaller ZIP codes in Elkton, Scottsburg, Tenmile, Camas Valley, Idleyld Park, Tiller, Days Creek, Azalea and Umpqua aren’t included in the state’s ZIP code report. OHA cites a need to maintain privacy in those places, where few people live in the ZIP code area.
Yoncalla’s 97499 ZIP code has had fewer than 10 cases, so the exact number isn’t being divulged, also for privacy reasons, and the rate can’t be calculated.
With the first day of winter officially less than a week away, it is only a matter of time before temperatures start dipping toward freezing. With that in mind, the Roseburg City Council on Monday eased the restrictions placed on severe weather shelters in an effort to give the homeless somewhere to go to get out of the cold.
The easing of the restrictions was intended, at least initially, to allow the Roseburg Dream Center to open its doors during freezing weather and take in the homeless. The organization, which provides services to the poor, including many who are homeless, moved this summer from downtown Roseburg to a new location at 2555 NE Diamond Lake Blvd.
That location does not have an inside sprinkler system, which means under the current code it could not be used as a severe weather shelter. The Dream Center was the only such shelter in Roseburg, city officials said.
The new rules waive the requirement for a sprinkler system — which city officials said could be too costly for many organizations — and streamline the permitting process that is in place for full-time shelters.
Tim Edmondson, director of the Roseburg Dream Center, submitted a letter to the City Council in support of the eased restrictions. In the letter, Edmondson said the temperature has already dropped below freezing a few times this year and he worries about people left out in the cold.
“Neglecting to address this problem is nothing short of inhumane,” Edmondson wrote.
The Roseburg Dream Center had been operating from the basement of Foundation Fellowship, at 813 SE Lane Ave., for about four years. That property also did not have an indoor sprinkler system, but city officials apparently never made an issue of it when it came to the building’s use as a severe weather shelter.
Edmondson, in his letter to the city, said he never knew he needed sprinklers for the severe weather shelter at the old location.
With current COVID-19 restrictions in place, an emergency shelter at the new Dream Center location could accommodate up to 25 people during freezing weather. A January survey found 845 people in the county who were identified as homeless, including 183 under the age of 18.
The new rules regarding cold weather shelters were fast-tracked in order to get something in place before the weather turned cold. In order to open as a severe weather shelter, a site plan review is required. If approved, the permit will be good for 12 months, and a site can only be used for a severe weather shelter for a maximum of 90 days per year.
A ‘BABY STEP’Severe weather shelters will only be allowed to open during severe weather conditions, namely when the temperature dips below freezing or above 102 degrees, or when the air quality index value reaches 201 or higher. The mayor or city manager could also declare a severe weather event if they deem it necessary.
The new regulations also require severe weather shelters to be inspected and approved by the fire department before they can open.
Those regulations also require a fire watch be maintained during sleeping hours if the building does not have sprinklers; that entails at least one person to remain awake overnight and keep watch for possible fires.
Other basic fire safety measures are also required, including the creation of an emergency evacuation plan, the installation of smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, and identified emergency exits.
So far, the Dream Center is the only organization that has expressed an interest in operating a severe weather shelter, said Roseburg Community Development Director Stuart Cowie. But with the eased regulations, that might change.
“I’m very excited to see this, it’s another baby step,” City Councilor Brian Prawitz said. “This actually will now … allow other organizations to open a warming center if they want to.”
Monday’s vote on severe weather shelters is among several recent steps the City Council has taken to address issues surrounding the homeless.
Last month, the council approved a program that will let a limited number of people sleep overnight in their cars. The so-called vehicle camping program will allow up to six vehicles to stay in a maximum of three approved locations in the city, from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Each site will have restrooms and trash cans and be monitored during vehicle camping hours by someone associated with the property.
The City Council on Monday also approved the creation of a homeless commission. The Commission will consist of seven members, including the chair, who will be Mayor Larry Rich. Four members shall be representatives from Adapt, United Community Action Network, Aviva Health, and Umpqua Health Alliance. Two members will be at-large.
Its stated purpose will be to “research, gather information and explore options in order to make recommendations to the City Council addressing the needs of the unhoused.”