Half of the COVID-19 outbreaks under investigation by the county health department are congregate settings with children, and the News-Times would like to help the school district and the public track the impact of the virus on in-person learning.
Lincoln County Health Department Interim Director Florence Pourtal told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Wednesday that public health was investigating 19 coronavirus outbreaks, half of which are tied to schools or day care centers. Staff is still working to collect data to determine whether schools are, in fact, the site of any transmission, or if positive students are acquiring the virus away from school.
She also noted that the department is still in “surge mode” and therefore not necessarily opening outbreak investigations unless they involve congregate settings, such as long-term care facilities, schools and jails.
The Oregon Health Authority weekly outbreak report lists schools with any student or adult cases, although data is frequently lagging a week or more. Last Wednesday, OHA reported eight student cases at Newport Middle School since classes began Sept. 7, and there had been one or two positive students at most other district schools.
As of the Sept. 29 OHA report, three schools have now had six or more student cases, others have single new cases, and others have new dates for latest infection but the same number of cases as the previous report.
Listed in Wednesday’s report were:
• Taft Elementary — six students and one staff/volunteer, latest onset Sept. 25.
• Sam Case Elementary — three students, latest onset Sept. 23.
• Yaquina View Elementary — seven students, latest onset Sept. 22.
• Newport High — three students, latest onset Sept. 21.
• Toledo Elementary — two students, latest onset Sept. 20.
• Taft High — two students, latest onset Sept. 19.
• Crestview Heights — two students, latest onset Sept. 18 (same number of cases but more recent onset date than in the last report).
• Waldport Middle/High — one student, latest onset Sept. 16.
• Newport Middle — eight students, latest onset Sept. 14.
• Oceanlake Elementary — two students, latest onset Sept. 10 (same number of cases but more recent onset date than in the last report).
• Siletz Valley Charter — one student, latest onset Sept. 7.
The Lincoln County School District has said it is too difficult to provide the number of students quarantined due to potential exposure. Oregon Department of Education guidelines only consider students exposed to another positive student if they are within 3 feet for more than 15 minutes in the classroom, as long as all are masked. This extends to 6 feet on buses. The district says it follows this minimum notification guideline.
A Sept. 28 post to the district website titled Quarantine Information for Families says staff often work around the clock to make decisions about student exclusions. “Once we have completed contact tracing, affected families will be contacted on the next steps,” the post reads. “Please understand this is not public information, and we cannot share health-related details.”
Though school districts cannot reveal personally identifying information regarding positive cases, some school systems do regularly provide the number of currently excluded students and positive cases on their websites.
Collection and presentation of this data is, however, a labor-intensive process for which many districts do not have the resources.
Has your child been excluded from campus due to possible COVID-19 exposure at school? Email or call the News-Times and tell us about it. We’ll never reveal your name or personal details. The newspaper hopes to collect and compile enough reports to provide a clearer picture of the pandemic’s local toll on in-person learning.
Reach our reporter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 541-265-8571.