SALEM, Ore. — Despite efforts to re-examine Oregon's coronavirus metrics for schools, a statement from Governor Kate Brown on Wednesday indicated that increasing community spread in many counties will continue to prevent a return to in-person classes.
Brown said that her Healthy Schools Reopening Council had met on Wednesday to review the steps Oregon can take to return more students to in-person instruction, now that there is burgeoning data from other areas of the country. Oregon's original metrics were released back in July.
However, even if those metrics are tweaked, Brown stressed that most students in Oregon would remain on distance learning with COVID-19 case rates at current levels.
“In order to get our kids back into the classroom, we need concerted, community-wide efforts to drive down COVID-19 case rates––by wearing face coverings, watching our physical distance, washing our hands, and forgoing large social gatherings,” said Governor Brown. “It’s on all of us to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, so we can open schools and keep them open safely."
Oregon continues to exceed the statewide metric of 5 percent test positivity, with the Oregon Health Authority reporting a positivity rate of 6.5 percent last week despite a slight decline in case numbers from the week prior.
According to Brown's office, only two counties currently meet Oregon's metrics for in-person learning at all grade levels. Seven counties meet the metric for K-3 in-person learning — down from 20 counties at the beginning of the school year. About 45,000 students currently receive at least some in-person instruction in Oregon schools, according to Oregon Department of Education figures.
Wednesday's meeting identified three main "areas of work," Brown's office said — reviewing state metrics to reflect the latest data and best practices from other states, making sure that schools are prepared for a safe return to in-person learning, and driving down community spread of COVID-19.
Brown acknowledged that schools provide more than just learning to Oregon students, and that distance learning has had a disparate impact on many families, particularly in communities of color.
"Distance learning is exponentially more difficult for parents who can’t stay home, because they work in essential sectors like the service industry, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. Not every home in every county has reliable access to broadband or learning devices for all children," Brown said. "And, unfortunately, too many students do not have a stable place to call home. These are the kids who need in-person instruction the most. The kids for whom a smile in the classroom or a helping hand in the lunchroom means everything.”
Brown's statement on Wednesday did not provide a timeline for when state metrics could see changes, or what those changes might look like.