ODE pushes for shorter quarantines for students with 'test-to-stay' programs

The program would allow students who were exposed to COVID to take a test, and if it's negative, they can stay in school.

Posted: Oct 25, 2021 7:19 PM
Updated: Oct 25, 2021 7:19 PM

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- The Oregon Department of Education is showing its support for shorter quarantines for students and staff who are exposed to COVID-19.

ODE is pushing for a program called "test-to-stay." It would allow students who were exposed to the virus to take a test, and if it's negative, they can stay in school. Director Colt Gill said the goal of this program is to maximize in-person learning. He wants to avoid students losing valuable time in the classroom because they have to quarantine.

"I know parents are frustrated when their child is placed in quarantine. Please know the schools want the children in the school, but we must follow public health guidelines to ensure student, staff and family safety," Gill said.

But he said there are some barriers: rapid testing kits are not readily available across the state right now. The department requested access to test kits for this program. They are currently waiting to hear back from the federal government. Gill said when the tests are available, they plan to shift to "test-to-stay" programs.

In Lane County, all school districts have a full 14-day quarantine requirement for those exposed and unvaccinated. COVID-19 Incident Commander Steve Adams said the county is not ready to make this shift.

"It is not within the recommendation of Lane County Public Health," Adams said. "We don't believe the current disease burden within the community, nor the extent to which testing is available to all individuals right now, would warrant that recommendation."

For now, the county is sticking with the 14-day quarantine because Adams thinks it's the safest option. However, this could change over the next few months. Adams said he's encouraged by the decreasing case numbers and expects them to continue to go down.

But 4J parent Mandi Morrison told KEZI enough is enough.

She said her husband tested positive for COVID, and she immediately drove to school to pick up her daughter. They quarantined for three to five days. Her daughter got tested, and it came back negative. She tested negative a second time, but Morrison said due to all the district policies, it added up to 24 days in quarantine.

Morrison said it's frustrating because her daughter is missing out on learning when she isn't even sick and has two negative tests.

"I just think it needs to be fair across the board," Morrison said. "If someone can go get a COVID test to enter a football game 72 hours later, if someone can take a COVID test to get on an airplane, to fly to vacation, then my daughter should be able to take a COVID test to go back to elementary school."

Morrison said the current system doesn't make sense. She believes if you get a negative test, you should be able to go back to school.

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