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Oregon will loosen COVID-19 exposure policy in schools as Omicron spreads

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon health and education officials will further loosen some COVID-19 policies in K-12 schools as the Omicron variant increasingly causes infections and widespread quarantines among students and staff.

The new guidance released Friday changes the definition of an "exposure" to someone positive for COVID-19. Instead of an exposure referring to close contact of any kind, it will now only apply to unmasked contact in schools.

"This means that Oregon will no longer consider masked contact in K-12 settings (including on school buses) to be an exposure regardless of distancing," said Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education. "Physical distancing should still be practiced to the greatest extent possible."

According to ODE, the new recommendations are intended to ease the contact tracing burden for administrators and public health staff.

Now the focus will be placed on unmasked exposures, particularly during mealtimes or extracurricular activities such as band, welding, or sports.

"Oregon Department of Education strongly recommends that all schools immediately implement stable lunch cohorts (for example, table groups, lunch bunches, etc.) where this is not already the practice," the agency said. "If a case occurs within a lunch cohort, the entire lunch cohort group should be considered exposed. Similarly, when a case occurs in an indoor unmasked extracurricular cohort, the entire cohort may be considered exposed."

The Oregon Health Authority has also decided that schools will no longer have to report negative antigen test results to the agency, only positive cases.

"During this period of very high COVID-19 transmission in our communities, cases will continue to be identified in our school communities and exposures will occur," ODE continued. "Exposed fully vaccinated children and adults who are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccination series and boosters are not subject to quarantine and may continue to attend school."

People exposed to COVID-19 at school remain eligible for test to stay and can continue to attend school during their modified quarantine period, officials said.

According to OHA, the guidance is expected to take effect Friday.

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