The new “test to stay” option for schools was quickly put into use on its first day of implementation early last week at a North Wasco County School District 21 school, and allowed several students to stay in school rather than go home to quarantine, according to a press release from the North Central Public Health District (NCPHD).
The test to stay program also allowed students to stay in school in Sherman County.
The voluntary program allows asymptomatic, unvaccinated students and staff who were exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 at school — in an environment where universal masking and safe distancing measures are utilized — to stay in school rather than be quarantined at home as long as they test negative for COVID-19.
The test to stay protocol can’t be used for exposure during extracurricular activities because masking in those settings is optional, the release stated. It also can’t be used for community or in-home exposures.
Stephanie Bowen, communications director for D21, said students at several schools were tested and allowed to stay in school the first day the option was offered last week.
Schools are responsible to test any student who is a close contact. Two rapid tests are done, the first on the day the exposure is identified, and the second on day 5-7 after the first test, Bowen said.
Vaccinated students and staff do not need to quarantine if they are a close contact of a positive case, she added.
The risk of transmission is minimized in school settings because the required testing is combined with several layers of mitigation including universal masking, physical distancing, cohorting and ventilation, according to the Oregon Department of Education. The testing is offered at no cost to participants.
This is a modified quarantine, and students are expected to still quarantine at home. Students and staff can still participate in school-related extracurricular activities during their quarantine but must remain masked at all times.
Dufur and Maupin schools are also geared up to do the program, but have not had to use it yet, the superintendents each said earlier this week.
Sherman County School Superintendent Wes Owen said they’d been able to allow several students to stay in school through the test to stay program.
Bowen stressed the test-to-stay program is voluntary and confidential. The parent of any student 14 or younger has to consent to the test. A student 15 or older can consent to the test on their own.
“Our primary focus is keeping our students onsite for in-person learning, safely, as much as possible. Implementing the Test to Stay program gives us this opportunity,” Bowen said.
Speaking before the Wasco County Board of Commissioners Dec. 1, NCPHD Health Officer Mimi McDonell said, “I’m happy to say, in Wasco County, things are looking pretty good. That is the state trend as well.”
McDonell reported there were no active COVID-19 cases at Mid-Columbia Medical Center early in the week. “That hasn’t happened for weeks and weeks and weeks,” she said. “That is very encouraging. We had only 11 cases (reported) last week, that’s encouraging as well.” Sherman and Gilliam counties have also reported very few new cases, she said.
She recommended everyone should get a booster dose of the vaccine if they are 6 months out from their final original dose. “We know that immunity wanes over time,” she said.
Not much is known regarding the Omicron variant recently identified in the U.S. “There are more unknowns than knowns,” she said. We know its different, but we don’t know how that will play out in the real world. It’s all unknown. We know its out there, and that’s about it.”
Weekly vaccine update: Last week’s vaccine report showed at least 90 doses of vaccine were administered by local entities, and the cumulative total is at least 30,740. Those numbers don’t include vaccinations by pharmacies. In Wasco County, 78.6% of adults 18 and older have received at least one dose. In Sherman County it’s 67.6% and in Gilliam County it’s 52.3%.
To book a first, second, third (for immune compromised) or booster (for everyone 18 and up) dose, visit www.ncphd.org/book-vaccine or call NCPHD at 541-506-2600. NCPHD does not do pediatric doses for ages 5-11.
All vaccines, including pediatric doses, are available at local pharmacies. (Safeway does not do pediatric doses). Mid-Columbia Medical Center clinics offer pediatric doses to established patients. One Community Health offers pediatric and adult doses to their patients.