redmond school

Students wear masks as they file into Sage Elementary School on the first day back to school in Redmond in September.

No more masks outdoors, new COVID-19 quarantine protocols and testing in schools and a vaccination verification system were announced by state health and education officials Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging press call, Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen said there was reason for optimism with the seven-day average of new cases at 822 on Tuesday, down from well over 2,000 around Labor Day.

“We’ve been able to turn back the tsunami of infection,” Allen said.

But the state would not give a firm timeline for lifting other restrictions or when the state might return to something close to “normal.”

“The delta-dominated COVID-19 world is really unpredictable,” Allen said.

Allen said the state was moving more cautiously after it was blindsided by the delta variant during the summer.

Gov. Kate Brown and health officials in June announced the COVID-19 crisis was ebbing due to higher vaccination rates.

But the delta variant swept into Oregon and sent infections, hospitalizations and deaths to new record highs.

The delta spike taught officials to refrain from setting metrics that would indicate a defeat of COVID-19 and repeat the false expectations of the summer’s pre-delta decline.

“We don’t have an exact number at OHA that we are keeping secret,” Allen said.

Indoor mask-wearing requirements will stay in place through the end of the year.

Outdoor masks

Allen said a steady drop in new infections over the past month allowed for a lifting of Oregon’s order mandating masks in large public gatherings outdoors.

The rule is lifted immediately. School districts and other educational programs can still require outdoor masking if they wish, Allen said.

School ‘test to stay’ program

Department of Education Director Colt Gill announced a new quarantine protocol the state hopes will cut down on time away from school for students who might be exposed to the virus.

The “test to stay” plan will use fast antigen tests already available to about 70% of schools in the state for a new quarantine protocol.

Currently, unvaccinated students have to stay home up to two weeks after close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

Under the new plan, students would be tested soon after the exposure and then again about five to seven days later. As long as they test negative, students can attend school, including extracurricular activities. They are expected to strictly quarantine before and after the school day.

Gill said school districts should work with local health authorities in setting up the protocol.

“We really think this will be a turnaround for our students, families and educators,” Gill said.

Julianne Repman, spokeswoman for Bend-La Pine Schools, said the district was receiving the information from the state press conference at the same time it was being received by the public and media.

“We are currently reviewing the information provided regarding changes to outdoor masking and the new test to stay program,” Repman said. “We believe that these will be important and impactful changes. That said, we do have some questions that we need to get answered about implementation before we can roll out an official direction.”

A spokeswoman from the Redmond School District said after receiving information from the Oregon Department of Education last week and Tuesday’s press conference, the district is seeking more clarity before making any announcements.

“That said, we plan to follow whatever guidance for the test to stay program as soon as we understand it more clearly,” said spokeswoman Gina Blanchette. “At that time, we will make an announcement to parents once we have defined our practices.”

Vaccination verification

Allen confirmed the state is working to create a system that would allow venues requiring proof of vaccination to more easily check records. Some conservatives have denounced the proposal.

Rep. E. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, said Monday he believed the state would use any system for wider purposes.

“The Digital Vaccine Records (aka passport) being developed by OHA Oregon will NOT only be for vaccines,” Reschke wrote on Twitter. “The Communists in State government will find other ways to use it to make you obey their whims.”

Allen said the program would not involve any state mandates, but streamline the ability of businesses, such as the Portland Trail Blazers, that have vaccination requirements for venues to verify vaccination status.

Because of concerns over equity, the state is creating a paper version that can be obtained by farmworkers, homeless people and others who may not be able to access digital systems.

Rising case numbers nationwide

Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, noted that 30 states have reported an increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. The upswing may be due to people gathering indoors more often due to colder weather in the northern and Rocky Mountain states.

It’s too early to know if Oregon will follow the same path. Sidelinger urged Oregonians to get their shots and avoid the prolonged severe cases of infection and death that are overwhelmingly tied to those who are unvaccinated. He also urged people to get a booster shot, especially those who are older than 50, live in congregate settings or have health issues that make them more susceptible to infection.

“The more we can get vaccine into arms, the better,” Sidelinger said.

Deschutes County’s high COVID-19 numbers

Officials said they were not completely sure why Deschutes County has reported high levels of infections despite having a high vaccination rate.

The state’s rolling community risk level measurement, last updated Monday, shows the county has 290.8 new infections per 100,000 people for the week ending Nov. 19. The statewide average is 137.7 cases per 100,000.

Deschutes County has a positive test rate of 9.3%, well above the statewide level of 6%.

One possibility is that the Bend/Redmond area is a transport corridor and destination for residents of nearby counties, such as Jefferson, Crook, and Klamath, that have lagged in vaccinations and have reported high infection rates in the past two months. This week, Crook County has the highest per-capita rate in the state, at 413.8 cases per 100,000.

Pandemic anniversary

The world prepares to mark the two-year anniversary of the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in China at the very end of 2019.

More than 4.2 billion people around the globe have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, about 55% of the world population.

Oregon on Monday passed 5,000 deaths from COVID-19 since February 2020. The United States is set to pass 775,000 known COVID-19 deaths, making it the biggest pandemic killer in the nation’s history.

The Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation projects over 880,000 deaths in the U.S. by March 1. Oregon is forecast to top 6,400 deaths by that date.

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(3) comments

NotaRobot

Oregon continues its schizophrenic rule-making regarding COVID. The righteous social police hang their hats on the effectiveness of masks however several clinical trials have proven their effect is minimal IF worn with 100% compliance. Vaccination is “the way out” but vaccination is so ineffective that vaccinated still hide behind a mask to not “transmit it to others”. And the OHA and Kate brown are too fearful to actually make a decision to open our state. Abolishing the outdoor mask mandate will do NOTHING

Agent zero

Greatest hoax ever

Moderate

Perhaps Deschutes has such a high rate because of oversized impact of people who send their child to school in a fake mask made of two overlapping layers of mesh; and people who proudly go maskless in the grocery store with a hacking cough.

This is why we can't have nice things.

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