As the world learns how to roll with the punches of the ever-present Covid-19 virus, area schools and parents are preparing for an in-person return to education.
Oregon Health Authority representatives at an Aug. 17 press conference gleaned light on how Covid-19 and Monkeypox (HMPXV) cases might affect the upcoming school year.
“Schools are critical to our children’s social and emotional well-being,” said Dean Sidelinger, OHA health officer and epidemiologist. “I know they also create opportunities for viruses and illnesses to spread … Covid-19 numbers have declined, but there are still a large number of cases.” The number of hospitalized patients with Covid-19 in Oregon has steadily declined from a peak of 464 to 328 since OHA’s update on July 20.
So what does this mean for schools?
Colt Gill, Director of Oregon Department of Education, said that the goal for the upcoming school year is to remain in-person.
“As we head into the coming school year, we’re holding strong to our North Star goal of providing equitable access to in person instruction all day, every school day, for every student,” Gill said.
Unlike the Delta and Omicron variant surges, Covid-19 transmission and cases are at a level that OHA experts are comfortable leaving jurisdiction up to local governments, and will not enforce a statewide mandate.
“Nearly all health and safety protocols will be locally determined with district leaders partnering with local public health authorities to make decisions about how to implement health and safety to keep schools open by keeping staff and students healthy,” Gill said.
Sidelinger said that OHA does not anticipate a new surge like the delta and omicron variants moving forward. With kids going back to school, though, some precautions still need to be taken to prevent the spread of disease.
Sidelinger and Gill still encourage parents to get their children vaccinated, as they have been approved for children six months and older.
“The vaccines we currently have available, provided that people are getting doses as recommended, are keeping people from severe disease and out of the hospital,” Sidelinger said.
Sidelinger also recommends that parents keep their children home if they are sick; this includes cold or flu symptoms, as well as rashes given the recent Monkeypox outbreak in Oregon.
There is now one pediatric case of Monkeypox in Oregon. In the interest of privacy, the age of the child has not been released. This pediatric case is one of 116 cases in Oregon, 68 of them being confirmed as HMPXV. Sidelinger suspects that this is an undercount, given that many people are not aware or do not get tested, as we saw in the COVID-19 pandemic.
In regards to the upcoming school year, Sidelinger is not concerned with the spread of Monkeypox in schools because of the nature of transmission. Monkeypox does not spread like Covid-19 or other diseases like chickenpox that can spread through the air and to multiple people. Monkeypox is spread by close skin-to-skin contact with lesions of an infected person. Because this kind of activity is not prevalent in school, there is a very low risk of transmission within schools.
“We’re working with schools again to make this again a great school year – a school year that is open to in person instruction once again, welcoming and inclusive, supportive and healing and focused on delivering that well rounded education that allows our students to thrive and reach their dreams,” Gill said.