Oregon Gov. Kate Brown urged communities Tuesday to rally together to lower COVID-19 cases so schools can open safely.
“We all play a part in reducing community spread of this virus,” Brown said during a news conference. By reducing community spread, she said, Oregonians can reduce the chance that a child or educator will contract the coronavirus and start an outbreak.
Brown was joined by several public health and education officials, including Dr. Dana Braner, the physician-in-chief at Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
“The return to in-person schooling is essential,” he said, citing the importance of socialization for children. Braner said he had never before witnessed a mental health crisis like the one playing out during the pandemic.
The press conference occurred as state education officials are rolling out new steps they’ll be taking in an effort to minimize health risks at public schools. ODE issued the first of what it’s anticipating to be a series of “school health advisories” in an announcement earlier today.
ODE’s initial health advisory is telling anyone who comes in contact with school-aged children to get vaccinated - reinforcing the state’s priority that all eligible people get the vaccine. In addition, the department is calling for a limit on in-person gatherings - both among families with school-aged children when different households might mix, and at school, when administrators hold events such as “open houses” (schools are advised to hold such events online). ODE is also advising schools to “reduce extracurricular activities” and to hold certain class periods outdoors “such as meals, recess, physical education classes, music and choir [...] to maximize physical distancing.”
Brown congratulated Oregonians on slowing the spread of COVID-19, according to a new model from OHSU.
The new model projects that cases will peak in Oregon some time in the next week — although Peter Graven, a data scientist at OHSU, cautioned the “peak” levels of COVID-19 cases could continue for several weeks before hospitalizations begin to decline. Hospitals may be using surge plans for weeks to come.
Oregon Health Authority state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said this decline in cases is conditional, and will only continue if more people get vaccinated and take protective measures, like wearing masks indoors.
Parents and teachers have raised questions about the wisdom of reopening schools in the middle of the state’s worst COVID-19 wave yet. At least seven school districts delayed reopening because of coronavirus-caused staffing shortages.
Some hospitals have begun to expand pediatric capacity, in case school reopening leads to a surge in COVID-19 among children.
Watch a replay of Tuesday’s briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response: