The Dalles — Wasco County has not yet met state metrics for starting hybrid and in-person schooling, according to the North Central Public Health District.

Under updated metrics issue by the state last week, in-person or hybrid education is allowed in Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties if there are fewer than 30 cases over two weeks, and the test positivity rate is under 5 percent. School size is no longer a factor under the new metrics (with the exception of very small, remote schools of 75 of fewer students).

In the latest two-week period, from Oct. 18-Oct. 31, Wasco County had 30 cases and a test positivity rate of 8.1 percent, said Dr. Mimi McDonell, NCPHD health officer.

If the 14-day case count is between 30 and 44 and the test positivity rate is less than 8 percent, careful phasing in of onsite or hybrid schooling, starting with K-3 and adding grades up to grade six, will be allowed.

Those schools already offering in-person education must plan to move to remote learning if the county has 45 to 60 cases over 14 days, and/or up to a 10 percent test positivity rate. Remote learning is required if cases are over 60 in two weeks and positivity is higher than 10 percent.

Schools in Dufur and Maupin are already offering in-person instruction. If Wasco County does not meet current metrics by Jan. 4, those districts will have to go to remote learning at that time. 

Northern Wasco County School District 21 in The Dalles is still doing remote learning.

D21 Interim Superintendent Theresa Peters said the district has not made any decisions yet on timelines for possible returns to in-person instruction. “We want to invest time in planning ahead to think through every little piece because of the potential for exposure and its impact. You want to limit that as much as possible,” she said. “So it behooves us all to do very thoughtful planning.”

The district is also surveying parents regarding their intentions on whether they would send their children to in-person instruction.

Sherman and Gilliam counties, where students have been in classrooms, each have low case counts, but the latest two-week period for each county shows uncharacteristically high test positivity rates last week of 12.5 percent in Sherman County and 22.2 percent in Gilliam County. Both will have to have a test positive rate below 10 percent. As of Nov. 13, Sherman had dropped to 7.9 percent and Gilliam to 15.8 percent.

Scott Nine, assistant superintendent for the Office of Education Innovation and Improvement at the Oregon Department of Education, said a trade-off for allowing higher case counts is the need to improve county testing rates, which is a key to controlling the transmission of COVID.

Nine encouraged communities to support increased testing. “Increased testing helps limit the ability of a single case to spike test positivity,” he said. He said community pressure to avoid testing “is the wrong strategy.”

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