Student sanitizing hands at school
A student sanitizes her hands upon entering a school in Salem (Photo by Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter).

The Oregon Department of Education released updated guidance for school districts on Wednesday that ends some testing protocols and contact tracing.

 The changes to the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework – a roadmap for keeping schools open and students safe during the pandemic – comes as schools prepare for the end of state mask mandates on March 12.  

Gov. Kate Brown announced the lifting of the mandates for the public and in schools on Monday, citing a rapid fall of Covid-related infections and hospitalizations in the state. 

The Oregon Health Authority now estimates nearly 82% of Oregonians are immune and potentially safe from reinfection for at least 90 days, according to a note on Wednesday from a state official to school districts. 

The update says schools should no longer try to pinpoint the source of an outbreak by contact tracing or continue with test-to-stay – a program that previously allowed students to stay in school as long as they tested negative twice within five days of an exposure. Test-to-stay will now only be available for students at high risk of Covid.

“These practices now, unlike earlier in the pandemic, have minimal impact,” said Colt Gill, director of the Education Department. 

Covid tests will be available to students and staff who think they have been exposed, and parents and guardians will be in charge of deciding to quarantine their kids if they are suspected of being infected or test positive at home. Leaders at the state Education Department and health authority recommend a quarantine of five days if a student tests positive for Covid, or until symptoms fully subside. Gill said schools have a responsibility to exclude students who are infected for five days, the period when they are most infectious. Schools also have a responsibility to communicate to parents when a student is suspected to have been exposed, he said. 

The Oregon Department of Education continues to recommend universal masking when there is high risk of transmission, based on data from local health authorities, and for students and staff who are at increased risk for severe disease.

In the Molalla River and Redmond School Districts, where school boards had previously voted to defy the state’s mask mandate by early March, district officials will now comply with state rules and wait until March 12 to lift their mandates, Gill said.

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Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.