Many of the COVID-19 challenges Oregonians face today are deeply familiar. Nearly two years into the pandemic, the state is still balancing the risk of spreading the virus in class against the benefits of in-person instruction in schools; grappling with access to tests; and people continue to disagree about the right ways to balance community health against personal freedoms.
School districts are sending students home for remote learning, returning to in-person instruction, or balancing the two, as a surge of infections takes students and staff out of the classroom. In Portland Public Schools, nurses have pushed back against some of the district’s communications.
In Central Oregon, meanwhile, some top Deschutes County officials are planning to participate in or support two far right, anti-COVID restriction events.
Here are the top headlines and latest updates on the continued spread of the coronavirus, fueled by the recent surge of the omicron variant.
Oregon Health Authority: Transmission is high all across the state
The Oregon Health Authority reported 28,037 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 541,415 diagnoses. New cases reflect diagnoses over the weekend and Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The state also reported 10 COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon over that period, raising the state’s death toll to 5,893.
Oregon’s COVID-19 community transmission dashboard shows all of Oregon’s 36 counties are having a high rate of transmission – defined as more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents.
U.S. government begins taking orders, prepares to ship no-cost COVID-19 tests
The Biden Administration has said it is buying hundreds of millions of COVID tests to distribute as the omicron wave of the coronavirus has spiked cases across the country.
On Tuesday, an online portal through the U.S. Postal Service launched. It allows people to order four free tests per residence that will ship directly to their address. People can also obtain the tests by visiting www.covidtests.gov.The Biden administration said it has plans to also launch a free call line to order the tests.
Some Oregon schools return to in-person learning
A number of Oregon’s largest school districts — including Salem-Keizer, North Clackamas and Gresham-Barlow — reopened for in-person learning this week.
Gresham-Barlow communications director Athena Vadnais told OPB in a brief email that the nearly 12,000 students in that district should plan to show up to school Tuesday.
“As of now GBSD is in session tomorrow as scheduled,” Vadnais wrote. OPB received a similar message from a North Clackamas district official late Monday afternoon.
The decisions around keeping schools open or closing them temporarily, in some cases as a transition to distance learning, have been largely tied to staffing levels, as well as student absences and the number of available substitutes.
Portland Public Schools has taken a building-by-building, day-by-day approach, with five schools started distance learning this week: Alliance and Franklin high schools, and George, Kellogg and Harriet Tubman middle schools. Several PPS schools are continuing in distance learning after starting that approach early last week, while three high schools — Cleveland, Jefferson and McDaniel — planned to return to in-person learning on Tuesday.
Other recent announcments:
- Klamath County School District has announced elementary school closures this week due to staffing shortages. Two schools will be closed to students starting Wednesday.
- North Powder School District in Union Co. is moving to comprehensive distance learning Wednesday and Thursday due to COVID-19 cases and quarantines.
Portland school nurses allege inadequate staffing, poor data, undermined decisions
In its recent announcement about the temporary move to distance learning for Tubman and Franklin, the district said the move was “due to COVID-19 impact on staffing and student absences.”
An email sent by the district’s head of human resources last week referred to a “high volume of last-minute educator absences” playing a part in the need to “rapidly transition to temporary distance learning.”
But in a letter circulated over the MLK Day holiday weekend, Portland-area school nurses are objecting to the messaging behind these school closure decisions.
The letter from the nurses argues that the teacher absences are related to the underlying challenge of the ongoing pandemic, and accuses the district of “blaming teachers for taking sick time.”
Read the full story: Portland school nurses allege inadequate staffing, poor data, undermined decisions
Deschutes County officials welcome anti-COVID restriction groups
Some top Deschutes County officials are planning to participate in or support two far right, anti-COVID restriction events.
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson is scheduled to speak to a People’s Rights meeting Tuesday. The group was founded by Ammon Bundy, who led the 2016 armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. People’s Rights is a network of groups formed in 2020 centered around Bundy’s anti-government ideology and resisting public health mandates.
Then in April, County Commissioner Patti Adair plans to attend a “Reawaken America” rally headlined by disgraced former U.S. Army general Michael Flynn.
Flynn was President Trump’s first National Security Advisor for 22 days in 2017 before resigning because he lied to FBI agents about a secret phone call he had held with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. He twice pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., but was pardoned by the former president in 2020.
Local organizer Troy Smith courted the event’s national promoters by assuring that two Republican Deschutes County commissioners were supportive of the cause, and that Oregon’s mask mandate would not be enforced. When contacted, those commissioners said Smith mischaracterized their conversations.
Oregonians who’ve had COVID-19 share their advice
Sure, there are official CDC quarantine guidelines and a state hotline and website for people who test positive. But sometimes you want to hear from another human.
Four Oregonians who have COVID-19 share what was difficult and what helped them get through. They tell us how difficult it was to keep a distance from loved ones, how taking time for recovery is important, and how even with what they went through, they need to be on guard against being re-infected.
My COVID-19 infection: Oregonians who’ve had it share their advice
This is a developing story. Watch for updates.