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Oregon schools mull mask policies as new CDC guidance urges their use

Most school districts in southern Oregon were still considering their policies earlier this week — but those that were leaning toward lax policies may be rethinking them with new direction from the state and federal government.

Posted: Jul 28, 2021 4:06 PM
Updated: Jul 28, 2021 6:25 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — When the Oregon Department of Education released its guidance for the coming school year at the end June, it left the decision to require face coverings up to individual districts and schools. Since then, districts in southern Oregon have been weighing their options and developing their policies — but the latest guidance from state and federal officials may have an impact on how they shake out.

NewsWatch 12 reached out to a number of schools in Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath counties earlier this week. Most said that they were either still developing their plans, or intended to make masks optional for students and staff.

The Medford School District is one that has yet to finalize its plans, but administrators said Wednesday that they intend to release an update on guidance for the fall by early next week.

"When the State of Oregon dropped its mask mandate in early July, we allowed face coverings to be optional in our Summer Experience, which serves nearly 1,000 students," said Superintendent Dr. Bret Champion in a statement. "As of today, we have had two staff cases and two student cases (the students were from the same household), and three of the cases arose during the first session when masks were required."

MSD conducted a survey over the past several weeks to get feedback on the mask issue from the community. About 70 percent of respondents said that face coverings should be optional or strongly recommended, while 30 percent said that they should be required for some or all students and staff.

Respondents said that they were 77 percent parents or guardians, almost 19 percent staff members, and 17.5 percent "community members" — with some apparent overlap.

According to MSD, they have also looked at recommendations from health officials, the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Oregon Health Authority.

However, guidance from public health officials altered dramatically just this week with the sudden rise in cases spurred by the Delta variant — with first the CDC, then the OHA, then Jackson County officials recommending that everyone wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Currently, only people 12 and older can receive a COVID-19 vaccine — and only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for those as young as 12 — so the majority of school populations below the high school level will necessarily be unvaccinated.

"As we work to compile our guidance for the fall, please know we are considering many factors and doing so with the best interest of our students, staff, families, and community in our hearts," Champion said. "We are charged with mitigating risk, not only of COVID, but of its impacts on teaching and learning."

MSD's next step will be to present its 2021-22 recommendations to the Board of Directors at a meeting on Monday at the North Medford High School auditorium. Public comment will be allowed for 45 minutes, and members of the community are asked to sign up in advance or submit written comment. All written comments will be reviewed by board members.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 324571

Reported Deaths: 3709
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah52543645
Washington35987280
Marion33757401
Clackamas27506277
Lane24978256
Jackson21483271
Deschutes17521104
Umatilla13107129
Linn1105390
Douglas11044207
Josephine8843175
Yamhill7781102
Klamath669695
Polk644272
Malheur498769
Benton479530
Coos439772
Columbia339039
Jefferson329748
Union287738
Lincoln286830
Wasco250139
Clatsop226026
Crook224939
Tillamook186123
Baker183124
Morrow171221
Curry169217
Hood River167235
Harney90518
Grant8899
Lake7518
Wallowa55812
Gilliam1404
Sherman1333
Wheeler651
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4698504

Reported Deaths: 68767
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles145515526035
Riverside3618524864
San Diego3547324054
San Bernardino3504055545
Orange3179985409
Sacramento1526762142
Santa Clara1418101852
Fresno1383231939
Kern1378841540
Alameda1173871328
San Joaquin990131633
Ventura986241138
Contra Costa96871924
Stanislaus820391262
Tulare74793904
San Mateo52770612
San Francisco52580622
Monterey49872571
Solano44658314
Santa Barbara43571505
Merced40058548
Sonoma39799384
Placer37312370
Imperial34644756
Kings30713293
San Luis Obispo28759319
Madera22239263
Butte22019238
Shasta21684291
Santa Cruz20334214
Yolo19462239
Marin17258242
El Dorado16291132
Sutter13297155
Napa1242695
Yuba945564
Nevada863985
Tehama856088
Humboldt851494
San Benito716170
Mendocino708182
Lassen660127
Tuolumne630193
Lake620295
Amador505559
Glenn411330
Siskiyou410442
Calaveras355570
Del Norte348237
Colusa294418
Inyo171339
Mono15295
Plumas12976
Mariposa106213
Trinity75810
Modoc6288
Sierra1980
Unassigned1430
Alpine1010
Out of CA00
Medford
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Brookings
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