Spring break is coming up this week. The week after, students and staff are expected to return to school buildings, if they haven’t already — under Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order issued earlier this month.
In travel guidance effective March 12, the Oregon Health Authority recommends staying home or in your region, and avoiding non-essential travel to other states or countries.
While COVID-19 cases and deaths have generally been declining over the last few months, the pandemic is still happening, and it could take longer for Oregon to reach herd immunity. At the same time, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. And OHA has reported 18 cases of COVID-19 “variants of concern.”
Traveling to and from other states or counties could increase the spread of COVID-19, according to OHA.
“In addition, travel itself can be a risk for exposure to COVID-19, particularly travel through public transportation such as airplanes, buses or trains,” according to the recommendations. “Avoiding travel can reduce the risk of both virus transmission and bringing the virus back to Oregon.”
Some school districts and universities are issuing advice to students and families, as well.
The West Linn-Wilsonville School District recommends staff and families follow OHA’s travel advisory.
The Lake Oswego School District is asking people to “consider quarantining” if they travel during spring break. “If students choose to quarantine, instructional materials will be provided while out of school,” according to LOSD’s newsletter.
The University of Oregon is encouraging students to “stay home and stay safe” with a list of things to do on campus and throughout Eugene. Oregon State University shared OHA’s travel recommendation, but if students do travel, OSU asked students to follow precautions from the local public health authority to get tested and stay home.
OHA suggested several “staycations” in a recent newsletter. They include going for a hike or bike ride, trying out a new craft or TV show, exploring a new area near home and spending time planning a trip for when it’s safer to travel.
“Though many of us may be getting the travel bug, across the country and around the world COVID-19 is still spreading,” OHA said in its daily update on March 8. “By avoiding travel and staying home, we can protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.”
If Oregonians choose to leave the state or country for non-essential travel, OHA recommends quarantining for 14 days upon returning. OHA also suggests possibly ending quarantine early, after 10 days, if a person has not had any symptoms, or after 7 days if they receive a negative result from a test conducted within 48 hours of the end of those 7 days.
For individuals returning to Oregon from non-essential travel, OHA also recommends “limiting their interactions to their immediate household.”
But with about 195,000 Oregon students doing some in-person learning according to state officials, and more of Oregon’s youngest students set to begin schooling in-person over the next two weeks, that may be more difficult to do.
Schools are required to follow the Oregon Department of Education’s “Ready Schools, Safe learners” guidance to provide safety and health protocols aimed at reducing the risk of COVID-19. That includes mask requirements and screening students (often visually) for symptoms, as well as providing a space for students and staff to isolate if they report or develop symptoms once at school.