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Oregon schools struggle to stay open as omicron spreads

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads across Oregon, schools and businesses are scrambling to stay open with fewer healthy people.

Over the weekend, officials at four Portland public schools that operate campuses — Cleveland, McDaniel and Roosevelt High Schools and Ockley Green Middle School — announced that they would return to remote learning starting Monday due to student and teacher absenteeism. The closures will continue at least this week.

Leaders in another Portland area, Parkrose, announced Sunday night that all of its campuses will be closed Monday due to staff shortages. The district reported that an average of 20% to 30% of its students were absent last week and employee absenteeism was as high as 25% in some cases. School administrators said they will be in touch with families and staff about what happens next.

In central Oregon, the Jefferson County School District has also announced that it is closing Warm Springs Academy K-8 campus. Officials said the decision was not due to absence, but to “be good partners” with the Confederate tribes in Warm Springs.

An omicron increase also affects some public services, including transportation. The Portland-area mass transit agency, Trimet, will switch 20 of its 84 bus routes to a less frequent service starting Monday due to a driver shortage.

“We hope service will return to normal levels soon, but we don’t have an estimate of when that will happen,” the agency’s announcement read.

Grover Cleveland High School is pictured in Portland, Oregon, Thursday, July 25, 2019. Portland Public Schools administrators announced that Cleveland, McDaniel, and Roosevelt High Schools returned to remote learning Monday due to the absence of students and teachers.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

More Oregonians are diagnosed with COVID-19 than at any previous point in the pandemic

More than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Oregon on Friday, ending a record week for the state. The seven-day average of cases increased by 373%. That number is likely an underestimate, given the number of home rapid tests that haven’t been reported to the state.

State health officials painted a dire picture at a news conference Friday. They said they estimate that about 65% of Oregonians no longer have immunity to the virus from a previous infection or vaccination.

There are many cases in which public health officials have abandoned contact tracing. Instead, the Oregon Health Authority is setting up a hotline to advise people who have tested positive.

At Friday’s news conference, officials encouraged Oregonians to get a booster vaccine if they haven’t already — about 35% of the state has a booster.

Although breakouts may increase the likelihood of them occurring, people who have been vaccinated three times are less likely to develop serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Health officials also encouraged people to wear well-fitting KN95 or N95 masks, since cloth masks are less effective against the highly transmissible omicron variant, and advised people to make a plan in case they get sick and need to be quarantined.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reduced the number of days people must self-quarantine when they test positive, from 10 days to five. The Oregon Department of Education has not done the same; If a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, they will be told to quarantine away from campus for at least 10 days.

Oregon hospitals prepare to triage care as boom threatens health system

Oregon health officials expect Omicron to oversaturate the health system.

And the boom will get worse before it gets better: The state’s forecast is for a peak at the end of January, when we could see hospital admissions increase 40% over last year’s increase in the delta variable.

To prepare, the Oregon National Guard plans to deploy up to 500 members to Oregon hospitals.

The Oregon Health Authority has also published new guidelines for hospitals if or when resources become limited. The triage tool is supposed to help them determine who gets urgent life-saving care in a crisis – and who may not – when not enough vital resources, such as intensive care beds, are available. It is based in part on updated standards published by Arizona, Massachusetts, and Washington.

State triage guidelines direct hospitals to classify patients by assessing their short-term probability of survival until discharge from hospital.

In the case of a relationship between two patients who need the same resources, the person already receiving care will continue to receive it, unless their condition worsens.

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