Educators have been bumped up on the vaccine distribution list, as state leaders and health authorities work to get students back in classrooms as soon as possible. 

So far, in the first group, 1a, people who have been vaccinated include healthcare workers, and staff and residents at nursing facilities. Educators are now listed as “essential workers” and have moved up in the vaccine distribution list to the second group, 1b. The Oregon Health Authority is developing a plan for rapid on-site testing to be available in schools, but that timeframe remains unclear. 

“That could happen anytime between a few weeks to a few months from now,” Mike Johnson, superintendent for the Creswell School District, emailed parents last week. 

The county remains steadfast in the “extreme” category for positive coronavirus cases. As of Jan. 12, Springfield reports 2,265 positive cases, an increase of 192 since last week; 260 (+32) in Cottage Grove; 205 (+14) in Creswell; and 43 (+3) in Pleasant Hill. 

The county reports 7,879 all-time cases; 433 currently infectious; 30 hospitalized; and this week, the county surpassed the 100-death mark, with 103 all time deaths reported. The state reports 126,607 total cases, with 6,992 hospitalized and 1,613 deaths. 

The change in priority for educators is a way to “make sure our kids know they come first,” Gov. Kate Brown said. In addition to educators, Phase 1b will also include essential workers whose jobs put them at risk, people with pre-existing conditions, and people over 75 years old.

Creswell, Cottage Grove and Springfield school officials said they are basing decisions on science and public health and safety as they work toward in-person on-site learning. 

Public health metrics that guide decisions for in-person on-site learning on Jan. 1 shifted from “mandatory restrictions” to “advisory recommendations” so local schools can make decisions regarding in-person instruction. Despite the shift, however, the metrics are still a guide for districts and students to return to school safely. Schools will still be required to adhere to health-and-safety measures in order to open any in-person instruction, and must continue to work in close consultation with the local public health authority.

The Oregon Department of Education and the OHA are reviewing the thresholds for COVID-19 case rates and the state metrics as well as the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance by Jan. 19. We’ll know more then, Johnson said. 

The metrics dictate that all grades can open for onsite instruction if the rate of new cases is less than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Kindergarten-3rd grades can open if the rate of new cases is less than 100 cases per 100,000. The case rate from the past week is 284 per 100,000, according to county data.

These numbers must be considered for CSD reopening, Johnson said, because of the considerable number of residents who commute to and from larger cities, like Springfield and Eugene. 

Johnson said that 50% of the Creswell district staff resides in Springfield-Eugene, and approximately the same percentage of Creswell residents work in Springfield-Eugene.

Another metric schools are using is the percent of positive tests, which identifies whether or not the county is doing enough testing. A high percentage suggests that only the sickest are being tested, and the county is missing people with mild or no symptoms. The goal is to keep the percentage of positive texts less than 5% in order to keep all grade levels open for onsite instruction, and less than 8% to keep kindergarten through 3rd grades open. Data from last week shows the county is at 3.7%, while the state struggles at 7.5%

“After the release from the Governor on Jan. 19, I will meet with the CSD licensed and classified association leaders to review the guidelines and plans to return to in-person on-site hybrid learning,” Johnson said.

Principals will be providing information to families regarding plans for starting in-person learning this week, Johnson said, and are collaborating with staff to develop small groups of students for limited in-person learning to begin next week. CHS sports programs began workouts and conditioning activities this week, and Babe Ruth is scheduled to begin team practices in February.

“By Feb. 5, Blueprint plans for in-person on-site hybrid learning will be completed,” he said. 

“This pandemic is a fluid situation with rapid changes from week to week and often on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “We will continue to do our best to provide the healthiest and safest approach to providing the highest quality education possible, given the most difficult circumstances we have ever experienced in education.”