Oregon Health Authority releases new guidelines for Oregon schools and universities

By Madison Pfeifer | March 8, 2020 7:40pm

Oregon Health Authority releases new guidelines for Oregon schools and universities

The Oregon Health Authority has released new guidelines and public health recommendations for Oregon schools and universities in response to growing concern over the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The guidelines do not recommend mass closures or cancellations but instead focus on precautionary measures for people who might be more vulnerable like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. 

Courtesy of CDC.

The Beacon participated in a media conference call with the Oregon Health Authority late Sunday afternoon where officials said schools and universities should not consider canceling classes or events in the absence of COVID-19.

Even in the presence of some exposure to the virus, closures and cancellations should be a last resort, according to Director of the Oregon Health Authority Patrick Allen.

“Given the virus’ apparent presence in the community at large, schools do not appear to be a greater source of transmission of COVID-19 than other areas in the community,” Allen said. “With those factors in mind, and according to the current information we have, the extent and severity of COVID-19 does not warrant closures of schools or cancellation of communal events in Oregon ... Full school closure should be a last resort.”

Allen added that people with underlying health conditions should stay away from large crowds and everyone should practice good hand washing, cough into their shoulders instead of their hands and that institutions should clean high-touched surface areas frequently.

“That’s why we’re recommending broad approaches to mitigating the spread within schools in the community by washing hands, covering coughs, ensuring staff and students stay home when they’re sick,” Oregon Health Authority Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dana Hargunani said during the call. “Because we know that the virus is present broadly in the community.” 

Courtesy of CDC.

During the call, Allen announced that a student from South Meadows Middle School in Hillsboro tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating and recovering at home. South Meadows is not closing but instead stressing preventive measures to students and staff.

As of March 8, more than a dozen people in Oregon have tested positive for the virus and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency Sunday.

The University of Portland isn’t ruling out a temporary closure if the situation escalates. In a campus-wide email sent Saturday, University Provost Thomas Greene laid out preliminary instructions for students and faculty in the event of a closure and recommended that all students sign up for emergency notifications.

The email came just one day after the University of Washington in Seattle announced its classes would be completely online at least through the remainder of its winter quarter which ends March 20.

Courtesy of CDC.

On Sunday, Vice President for Marketing and Communications Michael Lewellen sent a campus-wide advisory asking anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate until receiving medical clearance. He also said anyone with underlying medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 should consult their medical provider and if a student wants to temporarily avoid coming to campus, they should contact their associate dean.

“Oregon’s higher education institutions are diverse ... each will need to weigh today’s OHA guidance as their own circumstances warrant,” Ben Cannon, executive director at Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, said during the conference call. “But today’s guidance provides important and welcomed clarity that school closures are not recommended in the absence of a COVID-19 case and all alternatives should be considered before closing a school, college or university in the event that a COVID-19 case is detected among students or staff.” 

You can find CDC recommendations for avoiding COVID-19 here.

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.

Maddie Pfeifer is the News and Managing Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at pfeifer21@up.edu.