SchoolWatch: Medford School District will likely lobby Governor Brown again for greater local control of Covid-19 rules

MSD Superintendent Dr. Bret Champion told reporters on Monday that while the end of outdoor masking was a positive step — and one that the District implemented immediately — administrators were hoping for a more significant relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

Posted: Nov 29, 2021 4:10 PM
Updated: Nov 29, 2021 5:40 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — The Medford School District will likely make another bid for local control of coronavirus countermeasures in school after getting the go-ahead to remove outdoor masking requirements last week.

MSD Superintendent Dr. Bret Champion told reporters on Monday that while the end of outdoor masking was a positive step — and one that the District implemented immediately — administrators were hoping for a more significant relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.

"We're grateful for the outdoor mask thing, appreciative that test-to-stay is a thing, but we would want it to go a step further and allow us to work with our local health department to talk about what other next steps might be," Champion said.

Alongside the lifting of outdoor mask requirements, the Oregon Department of Education introduced "test to stay" last Tuesday. It gives unvaccinated students or staff who were exposed to Covid-19 at school the option of getting tested twice during the seven days following that exposure, avoiding the required week-long quarantine period if they test negative on both occasions.

Dr. Champion expressed frustration with the test to stay rules, which do not provide the same option for unvaccinated students or staff who were exposed outside of school. Exposures on school grounds during school hours have been uncommon, Champion said, and the test to stay option is thus not very useful.

"As it stands right now, if we've got a kid who was a direct contact at a sporting event or practice, we don't get to use test to stay," Champion said. "We would love to talk to Jackson County Public Health about being able to do that, but right now we can't. The state says 'nope' — it only applies to this incredibly narrow, incredibly narrow group of kids who get exposed at school. A sporting event is not considered at school."

The ODE rules say that the extracurricular exposure is excepted because masking is optional outside of school, and "the risk of transmission within the cohort is greater."

"I believe the best decisions are made locally, with local input, local data, and local conversations with folks who are charged with our particular context," Champion said. "Trying to make a singular decision for the entire state of Oregon is sometimes very necessary, and I don't disrespect that at all.

"We have now been at the Covid thing since March of 2020, we're coming up on over 18 months, about to be two years come March, and we have managed to handle Covid mitigation strategies incredibly well in the Medford School District with our local health department."

Champion confirmed that there is a draft letter requesting more local autonomy in the works, though it has not yet been adopted by the school board or sent to the state.

The Medford School District pushed back against Governor Kate Brown and state officials in early August after all K-12 schools were placed under a mask mandate, but ultimately complied with the mandate. MSD was one of several local districts lobbying Governor Brown for local control, but the protests faded away as the Delta variant spread rapidly and Jackson County became a locus for cases and hospitalizations in the state of Oregon.

In an update on Monday, Jackson County Public Health reported that there were 243 new Covid-19 cases last week, marking a 36% decrease from the week prior. The Oregonian reported that statewide weekly cases were down 25% last week, the lowest level since July. 

This continued progress was overshadowed somewhat by the news of a new "variant of concern" on the horizon, Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa but has since been detected in multiple other countries.

“It is important to be aware that there is a new variant of concern, but it is too early to know the implications this new variant may have,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Health Officer for Jackson County Public Health. “We want to encourage people that there are actions that everyone can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Assuring that you are fully vaccinated and taking known precautions, such as wearing a mask, are the best initial strategies that everyone can take.”

Among adults, Jackson County's vaccination rate was just over 66% as of Monday. Its overall vaccination rate, including all ages, was just above 57%.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 549942

Reported Deaths: 5908
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah91246935
Washington66239461
Marion53184568
Clackamas48202458
Lane42140396
Deschutes36193225
Jackson33315409
Linn19533221
Umatilla18893190
Douglas15964322
Yamhill13371168
Josephine12835290
Polk11462112
Klamath10887178
Benton1076146
Coos8224128
Malheur672895
Columbia569066
Jefferson554070
Lincoln502762
Crook451662
Union402765
Wasco378250
Clatsop353937
Tillamook284354
Hood River277138
Baker267940
Curry253640
Morrow247526
Grant130917
Harney130034
Lake115323
Wallowa95913
Sherman2303
Gilliam2244
Wheeler1652
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 7326549

Reported Deaths: 78101
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles234382128181
San Diego6411724547
Riverside5167235599
San Bernardino4991406258
Orange4871995941
Santa Clara2456731986
Sacramento2350502598
Alameda2030591566
Fresno1932342425
Kern1917411974
Contra Costa1547751085
Ventura1494071245
San Joaquin1413831957
Stanislaus1122251512
San Francisco103373694
Tulare1025111196
San Mateo94920644
Santa Barbara69671581
Monterey65883650
Sonoma64933429
Solano64606391
Placer55976510
Merced54745718
Imperial50370819
San Luis Obispo43050381
Kings41890392
Santa Cruz33640237
Madera31559336
Butte31274347
Yolo30735270
Shasta29382508
Marin28360251
El Dorado23973175
Napa20209109
Sutter17892198
Humboldt14600128
Yuba13555101
Nevada13121111
Tehama11815142
Mendocino11152109
San Benito1082990
Tuolumne970091
Lassen899459
Lake8245117
Amador682073
Unassigned61533
Calaveras581494
Siskiyou549762
Glenn524439
Del Norte431443
Colusa373021
Inyo372749
Mono27294
Plumas231512
Mariposa227218
Trinity113019
Modoc8526
Sierra2690
Alpine1180
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