While Oregon schools will be operating with in-person learning practices in place through the remainder of the year, health officials urge caution as the COVID-19 BA.2 subvariant continues to spur a rise in cases.
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State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger issued a media briefing on various pandemic issues Wednesday.
“All of us are ready to move on from COVID, but unfortunately the virus continues to spread throughout our state,” Sidelinger said. “It’s been more than two months since state indoor mask mandates were lifted. The predominant strain BA.2 remains highly transmissible and widespread statewide. Like BA.1, it is a stubborn adversary. We are seeing rises in cases due to BA.2.”
Sidelinger discussed a school advisory that was sent last week to state educators by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).
“This was to ensure schools can operate in person through the remainder of the school year,” Sidelinger said. “As of last Friday, with six Oregon counties listed at the mid-level risk, according to the CDC, OHA and ODE encouraged schools to continue using layered mitigation strategies.”
Mitigation strategies include education officials issuing recommendations for face coverings, or considering their universal use before making decisions to transition to remote instruction or end in-person instruction, Sidelinger said.
“In addition, OHA and ODE recommend that anyone may choose to wear a mask because of their individual risk level, such as a risk of severe disease or having family or community members at higher risk for severe disease,” he said. “We also suggest schools continue using free COVID testing programs for students and staff across their campuses.”
Sidelinger said daily reported case counts more than doubled in the last month, from a rolling seven-day average of 600 cases a day on April 20th to 1,350 on May 16th.
“We also know most cases are not being reported because testing is occurring at home, and some individuals do not get tested,” he said.
Sidelinger was asked about whether residents should start seeking a third booster.
“In the future, I would anticipate all of us will likely be getting an additional COVID vaccine,” he said. “When that is, and whether that’s the current vaccine you’ve received, or a vaccine that is tailored to new boosters is not yet known. But our federal partners, academic partners, and pharmaceutical partners are looking for the best path forward to protect us long term.”