There are two new developments in the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon.
State health officials will lift outdoor mask requirements for large public gatherings and state education officials announced that an adequate and stable COVID-19 test kit supply has been acquired for all public and private schools in the state to be able to implement test to stay protocols.
Oregon Health Authority (OHA) officials have lifted the requirement for outdoor mask wearing in crowded settings, effective immediately. The rule was implemented in August at the onset of Oregon’s most recent surge. Health officials noted that the outdoor mask rule was among the actions the state took to combat Oregon’s most recent and deadly COVID-19 surge, which has been fueled by the spread of the Delta variant, largely among unvaccinated Oregonians.
The outdoor mask rule, a rule that requires people to wear masks indoors in public settings and a slow but steady rise in vaccination rates, have helped reduce transmission rates.
Health officials lifted the outdoor masks requirement in light of the overall progress Oregon has made to curb new infections and stabilize hospitalizations.
“While it’s too soon to lift all mask precautions, we can remove the outdoor mask requirement for crowded public settings," Oregon’s State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said. "We’re not seeing these settings fueling large outbreaks. Oregonians can interact with others outdoors without putting themselves and others at high risk, especially if they are vaccinated.”
Test to stay allows students to attend school in person as well as extracurricular activities (with certain restrictions), as long as they test negative. Test to stay allows students and staff to participate in in-person learning as safely as possible while lessening the burden of quarantine on students and their families, teachers and school administrators.
“We know the critical importance that school attendance has on student success,” Oregon Department of Education (ODE) Director Colt Gill said. “Using test to stay as part of a layered set of protocols in schools will keep students and educators in classrooms, maximizing days spent in school learning, growing and thriving. It’s important to remember that if an individual is vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19, they do not have to take a COVID-19 test to stay in school or quarantine.”
OHA Director Patrick Allen said the indoor mask mandate remains in place for the future.
“We have not set targets,” he said.
How Test to Stay Works
Test to Stay is available only for unvaccinated asymptomatic individuals who were exposed in indoor and outdoor school settings where universal masking is fully in place, according to a release from the state.
Indoors and outdoor exposures are reviewed for proximity and duration of exposure. Test to stay may not be used following extracurricular exposures because masking in these settings is optional and the risk of transmission within the cohort is greater. Similarly, test to stay may not be used following community or in-home exposures.
Test to stay allows unvaccinated individuals to be tested twice during the 7 days following exposure. First, as soon as the exposure has been identified, with a second test occurring between days 5-7 following the exposure.
Test to stay is a form of modified quarantine, which allows individuals to attend school during their 7-day quarantine period. However, individuals participating in test to stay are expected to maintain quarantine outside of classroom settings.
Students and staff participating in test to stay may participate in school-related extracurricular activities during their 7-day quarantine period but must wear face coverings at all times during these activities.
The test to stay protocol is an option available to all Oregon schools to administer. Tests are offered at no cost to participants. Student participation requires the permission of a parent or guardian. Close contact students and staff have the option of following LPHA recommendation for length of quarantine if their family does not want to participate in test to stay.
The change in the outdoor face coverings rule means local school districts, charter schools and private schools will set local requirements for use of face coverings outdoors. Extended close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual outdoors could still lead to exposure requiring quarantine, so local decision-makers need to consider the best use of physical distancing, face covering and other protocols to prevent exposure and the impacts of quarantine on student learning.
Testing is one of several components aimed at reducing the chance of spreading COVID-19 in schools along with face coverings indoors, physical distancing, improved ventilation and vaccination of students and staff. Vaccines are the single most important factor in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Being vaccinated helps keep staff in front of students and, now that vaccines are available to everyone over the age of five, it also keeps students in class as well.