The rising number of COVID-19 cases in Douglas County may impact schools as early as next week.
Douglas County had 35 new COVID-19 cases in the week ending Oct. 24, or 31.2 per 100,000, according to data released Monday by the Oregon Health Authority.
This means that — while schools can remain open this week — if that number doesn’t go down, schools could be forced to close their doors next week and start, or restart, distance learning.
Roseburg Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cordon sent a letter Monday afternoon to the families of students in kindergarten to third grade, who are currently able to attend in-person classes in Roseburg.
“The current metrics mandated by the state include a contingency plan for schools that have reopened to in-person learning,” Cordon wrote. “The current plan states that if cases reach 30 or more per 100,000 people in a county for two weeks in a row, then schools will need to transition back to remote learning. The county’s case numbers released today were 31.2 per 100,000. If next Monday, we again reach 30 or more cases per 100,000 then we will need to prepare to transition back to remote learning.”
Cordon added that families will be informed as soon as the district makes a decision on how to proceed.
Assistant Superintendent Michelle Knee said, “Cases in Douglas County have been on the rise and we want our students, staff and families to be prepared for the possibility of returning to remote learning in the event it is necessary. It is our goal to keep K-3 students in school in person and ultimately bring all of our students safely back to our buildings.”
There have not been any reported outbreaks among students in Roseburg Public Schools.
Other schools have seen students who have tested positive for COVID-19, but there has been no confirmed spread.
Douglas County Public Health Officer Bob Dannenhoffer said: “We have seen several local school cases, but have not seen any confirmed spread in schools. All of these cases seem to have been part of family spread, that is a family member gives it to the student, and the student goes to school either before they have symptoms or after they have symptoms. We are carefully monitoring the number of cases in the county, and in schools and at this time, do not recommend any change in school openings. I do strongly recommend that parents do not send their kids to school if they are sick with any symptoms: fever, cough, diarrhea, stomach upset, runny nose or sore throat. If kids are sick, they should stay home until the symptoms resolve, plus another day.”
Douglas Public Health Network released a video on Saturday that addresses some of the commonly asked questions regarding the coronavirus and schools. The video can be seen on the DPHN’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The Oregon Department of Education’s health metrics released earlier this year state that if there are more than 30 cases per 100,000 for more than one week schools will need to initiate distance learning. Schools would also need to initiate distance learning if the county test positivity rate is above 10%, but that number was at 3.9% last week.
However, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said schools that opened under an exception will not need to close.
“For schools that have opened under any one of the exceptions to the public health metrics for reopening schools for in person K-12 instruction, including the K-3 exception, they should consider the spread of COVID-19 within schools and the broader community in deciding to temporarily return to Comprehensive Distance Learning,” Gill said.
In Douglas County, many schools opened under exceptions including all elementary schools in the Roseburg school district.
Gill added that if there are two or more cohorts with unrelated COVID-19 cases, districts should discuss the impact on the community with local public health officials.
“It is encouraged that the school follows recommendations from their local public health authority on whether a temporary move to Comprehensive Distance Learning (for two weeks or longer) is recommended to protect the health and safety of the students, staff and families,” Gill said.
Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team spokesperson Tamara Howell said the keywords for the local health authority are consult, discuss and recommend.
“While Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer, our Douglas County Public Health Officer has been working directly with most of our local schools, his job is to consult, discuss and make recommendations to local school officials about health and safety related issues based on the current state guidelines,” Howell said. “All guidelines for schools during COVID-19 are set by the state (OHA and ODE). Further, it is up to the individual school district, and their elected school boards, to follow the state guidelines, and then decide how they will operate and implement them.”
Similarly, the county will not enforce school closures but will instead leave that up to the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education.
Last week, Gov. Kate Brown released a plan to review the health metrics and get more students back into the classroom.
“Returning to in-person instruction safely is key to ensuring Oregon’s students are receiving a high-quality education that prepares them for lifelong success,” Brown said. “But our schools and our educators do so much more than teach and inspire students.
“Our schools provide warm and nutritious meals to students who are hungry. They are health centers. They provide for students’ mental health and well-being. And, at the center of it all, are the teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians, and support professionals who, every day, build the personal, individual connections with students that are so crucial to their lifelong success.”
The governor’s office said new data on schools reopening has become available while adding that increased community spread of COVID-19 presents a major obstacle in returning to the classroom.
According to the Oregon Department of Education, approximately 45,000 students currently received at least some in-person instruction in Oregon schools last week.
“In order to get our kids back into the classroom, we need concerted, community-wide efforts to drive down COVID-19 case rates — by wearing face coverings, watching our physical distance, washing our hands, and forgoing large social gatherings,” Brown said. “It’s on all of us to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, so we can open schools and keep them open safely.”