PSD Return to School

Sunridge Middle School teacher Katie Bodewig leads a math lesson from her classroom in Pendleton on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.

In a move that loosened barriers for some schools in the state to begin in-person education, the Oregon Department of Education suspended use of the state’s COVID-19 test positivity rate metric for of September on Thursday, Sept. 24.

The decision, first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, has no impact on schools in Umatilla County, which reported 61 new COVID-19 cases the week of Sept. 20-26, according to the Oregon Health Authority. That’s still well above the requirement of reporting less than 10 cases per 100,000 residents (fewer than eight new cases per week for Umatilla County) for three straight weeks before returning all students to classrooms.

However, a longer suspension of the metric, if not complete removal of it, could significantly impact the county’s longer-term prospects of returning to in-person education.

“I don’t really know where they’re going with this, or if this is just the start of this metric just not being used anymore,” said Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara.

A majority of Umatilla County schools won’t be permitted to reopen for in-person instruction until the county records a test positivity rate of less than 5% for three consecutive weeks.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, Umatilla County recorded a test positivity rate of 12.4% the week of Sept. 13-19, its lowest recorded rate since the state started publishing weekly reports for the week of July 5. However, Umatilla County is one of two counties in the state — the other being Morrow County — to not record a test positivity rate below 10% since the metric was introduced.

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