Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state epidemiologist and a senior health adviser for Oregon Health Authority, and Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, along with an interpreter for deaf viewers, gave a hopeful presentation on schools reopening Feb. 3. (Screen grab from the Oregon Health Authority)
Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state epidemiologist and a senior health adviser for Oregon Health Authority, and Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, along with an interpreter for deaf viewers, gave a hopeful presentation on schools reopening Feb. 3. (Screen grab from the Oregon Health Authority)

Mass COVID-19 vaccinations are taking place at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. Appointments are required, and only certain groups are receiving the vaccines because of limited quantities.

Educators have a place at the front of the line, in order to get children back into classrooms.

Providence is part of the effort, along with Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Health and Oregon Health and Science University.

“It feels hopeful,” said Carrie Tierney, a school nurse with North Clackamas School District, about getting her vaccine. “I’m really excited to potentially get our kids back in school. They need that interaction.”

Providence filmed interviews with several educators getting the vaccine.

Both the Beaverton and Portland Public School Districts have indicated they plan to reopen to in-person instruction by April.

“None of us got into teaching to sit behind a computer all day long,” said Nick Thompson, a middle school teacher in Portland Public Schools. “The sooner we can get this done the sooner we can get back to normal.”

Thompson was looking forward to seeing kids interact with one another. He was especially worried that children vary widely in their circumstances, with some having been severely disadvantaged during the school closures.

The convention center vaccination site is expected to run for six to nine months. It will include both first and second doses of vaccines.

Vaccinations come as the Oregon Health Authority has reported dramatic declines in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations. This is true nationally, although Oregon as a state is doing exceptionally well. As of the beginning of February, the state’s seven-day new case rate per capita was the third lowest in the nation.

However, the health authority also reported a continuing disproportionate impact on minorities and more contagious variants gaining a foothold in the state.

In a press conference at early February, Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state epidemiologist and a senior health adviser for Oregon Health Authority, and Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, confirmed that Oregon’s rules will allow a school to stay open regardless of the local case load — as long as spread is being mitigated within the school.

Many of the Archdiocese of Portland’s Catholic grade schools have been open to limited on-site instruction for several months.

Jeanne and Gill said private schools and public schools operate under the same public health and safety requirements, with local leaders making the decision to open. Schools are required to turn in an operational blueprint that shows how the school will comply with about 160 different requirements that focus on core areas of staying safe. That includes wearing face coverings, physical distancing, hygiene, contact tracing and cohorting.

Cohorting means keeping students in their own pod. A child might learn with nine others in her cohort, for instance, instead of the 25 in pre-pandemic times. It is a safeguard against an entire class or entire school being shut down after one child tests positive. Theoretically, just the pod would need to quarantine in that instance.

Jeanne referred to “the Swiss cheese effect” in regard to safety. He explained that masks don’t provide for a 100% safe environment; nor do social distancing, cohorts, vaccinations or hand-washing. With all those safeguards, however, there’s more and more confidence for safety. “Each layer has holes but when you stack them up the holes are all blocked,” said Jeanne.

kristenh@catholicsentinel.org

 

Learn more

Vaccines are by appointment only through the Oregon Health Authority’s signup bot. There are no walk-ins. Find out where your place in line is at covidvaccine.oregon.gov.