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Rules change what's considered a 'close contact' in Oregon schools

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The Oregon Health Authority announced close contacts that happen in K-12 masked settings will no longer be considered close contacts. 

Close contacts that happen while students are masked in school settings will no longer be considered close contacts, according to new guidance released Friday, Jan. 14 from the Oregon Health Authority.

The Corvallis School District and Greater Albany Public Schools will implement this new protocol starting Jan. 18.

“When we contact trace, we will only look at meal times when kids have their masks off,” CSD Assistant Superintendent Melissa Harder said. “Prior to this, we were looking at when kids were closer than 3 feet even with masks on.”

Corvallis also implemented other changes to the district’s COVID-19 protocols, including a shorter, five-day isolation period for COVID-19-positive students and staff.

This shorter isolation period is contingent upon the COVID-19-positive student or staff member’s ability to consistently wear a properly-fitted mask once they return to school.

GAPS Communications Director Michelle Steinhebel said the district just has to coordinate with local health authorities over the long weekend before implementing the change on Tuesday.

OHA’s update stated that this change will lessen the overall burden of contact tracing in K-12 schools while ensuring school staff and health officials continue tracing and reporting high-risk exposures.

This means that masked contact in K-12 settings, including school buses, will not count as a close contact, regardless of distance. OHA calls this a “common-sense” change.

On Friday, Waverly and Sunrise elementary schools in Albany closed due to COVID-related staff and student absences. The schools will continue with remote instruction after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday until at least Jan. 21, and the district will keep an eye on cases throughout the week when considering reopening the schools, officials said.

Joanna Mann covers education for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or Joanna.Mann@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter via @joanna_mann_. 

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