Oregon Coronavirus Update (Part 2) Oregon Schools, COVID, and reopening
Lisa Reynolds, MD, pediatrician and Representative-Elect for Oregon House District 36.
From yesterday, Part 1: Cases/Deaths/Vaccines Summary: Oregon is seeing a slow in the spread of COVID! There is overall a downward trend in COVID cases everywhere. This is good news although we brace for a spike in cases due to Christmas travel. Not good news? The vaccine roll out is slow.
Today Part 2: Oregon Schools, COVID, and reopening Summary: Gov Brown has lifted restrictions for reopening schools, leaving the decision up to individual districts. Teachers are calling to be vaccinated before returning to school. This could lead to a long delay as we witness the glacial pace of receiving vaccine from the federal government and then allocating the vaccine by state and local agencies.
School in Oregon
In a dramatic reversal, on December 23, Gov Brown announced the removal of state restrictions for school reopening, leaving the decision to reopen schools up to individual districts. Oregon will update school COVID safety requirements Jan 19, 2021, and districts should “wait until then to make a decision” about reopening. The Governor is hoping schools, especially for the younger age groups, open by 2/15/2021.
Previously, Oregon school reopening criteria were among the strictest in the nation. This has likely been a contributing factor in Oregon having a lower case count than other states.
Portland area schools are awaiting state guidelines (1/19/21) and are negotiating with teachers. Portland Public Schools (PPS) said teachers won’t return until they’ve received the vaccine and will return to in person teaching on a voluntary basis only. These requirements will markedly delay school reopening. (Please see part 1 of this update, which describes Oregon’s very slow rates of vaccinating.)
The district will provide PPE. (PPS has spent $20M so far on chrome books and cleaning supplies.)
PPS will prioritize the following students for in-person instruction: those for whom English is a second language and those who need help reading
School in Oregon: Risks of Virtual Learning: The case to resume In Person learning
Ideally, we’d love to vaccinate teachers pronto to smoothe the way to return to classrooms, but alas, that will take too long. This is complicated for sure - but we have kids who will lose too much ground if we wait until there is zero risk (ie full herd immunity to reopening.
School closures are especially difficult for working class or unemployed families who cannot afford tutors, pods, or private schools. They also may have equipment, connectivity issues. These families also rely on schools to provide nutrition for their kids.
Mental health issues - isolation, toxic stress, substance abuse, suicidal ideation
Achievement Gap - those already falling behind are most affected
Less active/less outdoor time, rising obesity.
Attendance is lower and harder to enforce - overall engagement and checking in is more challenging.
Is there a way to open schools to the most vulnerable (how to define?)
We must shore up our schools NOW with plexiglass, PPE, hybrid plans to allow for social distancing, ventilation systems to prepare for in person learning sooner. This can slow (but not 100% prevent) the spread.
CONSIDER summer school aka “5th Quarter” (Oregon is looking into this).
Thru vaccine + illness/recovery or both
We need (estimated) 60-70% herd immunity to slow or eliminate community transmission.
A 90% effective vaccine (see below) needs to be administered to 70% of the population to confer immunity to 60% of the population. There will be additional (presumed) immunity for people who have been sick and recovered from COVID.
If we continue with safety measures (handwashing, masks) we can achieve adequate protection from community spread with a lower % “immune”.