By Tim Gruver
Come New Year’s Day, the Oregon health metrics for schools will become recommendations rather than law and open the door for regular in-person classes to resume, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday.
The news follows months-long attempts by Brown to relax safety standards she placed on schools earlier this year to get more students back in classrooms.
Under Brown’s prior mandatory health metrics from last summer, schools could reopen if their corresponding counties saw positivity rates of 5% and case rates of 10 per 100,000 residents.
The governor revised those metrics in October, eliminating the statewide 5% threshold and reducing the required three-week waiting period to a two-week period.
Brown’s announcement comes as 29 out of Oregon’s 36 counties remain under Oregons “Extreme Risk” category for the spread of COVID-19, which bans indoor dining and caps indoor retail and grocery store capacity to 50%.
COVID-19 case numbers around the state continue to rise, albeit at slower rates than recent months.
The Oregon Healthy Authority (OHA) reported on Wednesday that the week of Dec. 14 saw 8,745 new reported cases of the virus – or a 5% decrease over the previous week and the second consecutive week of declining cases.
Brown’s office estimates that 90% of Oregon’s more than 587,000 K-12 students are currently being taught online by the state’s nearly 31,000 K-12 teachers.
School closures received strong support from the state’s teachers union, the Oregon Education Association, and many Oregon parents.
Oregon joined Washington state earlier this week in prioritizing K-12 school teachers for vaccinations after health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents.
Oregon schools have received about $109 million in federal CARES Act money in 2020 along with $28 million for technology and internet assistance.
The state legislature approved an additional $50 million during Monday’s special session to help schools in their transition to in-person learning on top of liability protections for public and private schools for the duration of the pandemic.
The date Brown anticipates elementary students will begin returning to regular classes is Feb. 15, 2021. The governor did not explain how schools could reopen so soon given the pace of the state’s vaccine rollout.
According to the governor, schools still have a responsibility to reopen cautiously.
“Moving forward, the decision to resume in-person instruction must be made locally, district by district, school by school,” Brown said in a statement. “As our neighbors to the north have demonstrated, this does not mean schools can resume in-person instruction without regard for COVID-19 spread in the community, but instead should carefully consider the metrics in their local context, the needs of students and families, and readiness to implement health and safety protocols.”
Oregon has seen 105,073 cases and 1,382 people die with COVID-19 to date, the OHA reports.
Brown said on Wednesday she anticipates a review of the state’s health metrics for schools to be completed by Oregon health officials on Jan. 19 once they are no longer mandatory.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.