Jul 28, 2020
Oregon Governor Kate Brown Press Conference Transcript July 28
Oregon Governor Kate Brown gave a COVID-19 press conference on July 28. She discussed plans to reopen schools. Read the full coronavirus news briefing speech here.
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Gov. Kate Brown: (02:14)
Are you ready, Dr. Dean? Are you ready? Okay. Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us today. I’m here today to talk about school plans for the fall. I’m joined by Dr. Dean Sidelinger, our state epidemiologists, Colt Gill, director of the Department of Education, and Miriam Calderon, Early Learning System Director for the State of Oregon. I have to tell you, closing schools in the spring was one of the most difficult decisions I have made during the pandemic. It was in the early days, which feels like a lifetime ago. As COVID-19 continues to impact both our urban and rural communities, it’s been clear that this school year will not look like any other school year. Over the past few months, I’ve often said that my decisions are based on the advice of medical experts and using science and data as my guide. And frankly, sometimes the data can point in several directions at the same time.
Gov. Kate Brown: (03:25)
Schools are a good example of that. As the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated, there is clear evidence that children receiving instruction and support in school is far better for them academically. It fosters our students’ social and emotional wellbeing, their overall health, and often their physical safety. And I know that most parents agree. Parents also know that this is a highly contagious virus. And when there are lots of COVID-19 cases spreading in the community, then the likelihood that the virus will spread at schools also increases. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is also clear that only with low rates of disease and with adequate safeguards in place, should schools return to in-person instruction. Both of these things are true; good schools improve health, and we need to be cautious so that schools don’t become places where the virus spreads.
Gov. Kate Brown: (04:35)
In early June, the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority provided schools and communities with comprehensive guidance to help planning for the fall. This guidance has provided every local school with a blueprint to implement clear health and safety protocols. It also provides the flexibility for schools to choose in-person instruction, comprehensive distance learning, or a hybrid approach. The plan each public district adopts for the coming school year is and remains a local decision. And yet in the time since then, the virus has continued to spread and we must follow clear public health metrics to know when and where it is safe for school to convene inside school buildings. That is what we are announcing today. Dr. Sidelinger will detail the circumstances under which school districts will be allowed to choose in-person or hybrid learning for their local communities.
Gov. Kate Brown: (05:45)
He will also outline the markers for the spread of the disease that will require schools to change gears and shift to comprehensive distance learning. These requirements will give our public schools, private schools and communities, the opportunity to make sound decisions based on the latest science and health data. These requirements also provide reasonable allowances for our smallest rural schools, as well as allowances for in-person instruction for specific populations of students such as our younger grades. Studies show that younger students, particularly those in kindergarten through third grade, kids under 10 years old, have lower rates of illness and transmission than other children, older children and adults. Providing nurturing in-person relationships and learning to our youngest children is absolutely critical to developing the reading and language skills and social development necessary for their longterm success.
Gov. Kate Brown: (06:56)
Overall, these requirements align with the recommendations from both public health experts and educators. A few notes on how we landed on these metrics. First and is always, health and safety serve as our North Star. We are taking a cautious and careful approach that protects public health just as we have over the past five months in tackling this disease. Second, equity. Equity has to be at the forefront of our decision making. We know that our youngest children are students of color, low income students and students experiencing disability have faced the greatest challenges accessing a high quality education and in their learning and development. Many of our families have already faced disproportionate impacts since schools closed to in-person instruction and move to distance learning. Let me be really clear. I am absolutely unwilling to lose an entire school year for any of our kids. A year that could be foundational to the lifelong opportunities for thousands of Oregon students. I will push, I will cajole and I will demand nothing but excellence from our districts and our educators. But it is also incumbent on all of us, every community to take every measure to slow the spread of this disease so that we can get our kids back into school as quickly as possible. We cannot let our kids down. These are truly all of our children. I certainly have confidence in our teachers, in our school staff, in our administrators and in our district leaders to help our school children achieve their dreams, and to ensure that kids can access comprehensive distance learning, I’m releasing an additional $28 million to be distributed to public schools under my Emergency Education Relief Fund.
Gov. Kate Brown: (09:18)
This money may be used for mobile hotspots, computers and technology, online curriculum and teacher training. Oregonians, we can do this. We can rise to the challenge. Thank you. And I’m now pleased to turn it over to Dr. Dean Sidelinger.
Dr. Dean S.: (09:36)
Thank you, Governor Brown. I’m Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the State Health Officer and State Epidemiologist here in Oregon. No matter what age, students need to be safe and healthy in order to learn. Learning is a lifelong factor that’s key to the individuals’ good health. Educators and school staff need to be safe and healthy to provide students the instruction, counseling, meals, athletics, and other supports that enrich their lives and prepare them to thrive as grown members of our communities. Parents and guardians need to have confidence that they will not have to risk their children’s health for the sake of their learning or their learning for the sake of their health by sending kids back to school. They need to know how schools are taking the right steps to reduce the risk a child could contract COVID-19 and bring the virus home to vulnerable members of their family, whether that’s grandparents or other relatives with underlying medical conditions.
Dr. Dean S.: (10:35)
The COVID-19 pandemic has confronted all of us with hard choices. For families, superintendents, and educators, public health officials, it’s this question, how do we keep our students on track in their education while protecting them from COVID-19 and shielding the broader community from an increased risk of wider outbreaks when schools reopen? So here’s what we see when we look at the evidence. Students are harmed by lost instructional time. Distance learning cannot fully replace in-person instruction, especially for our youngest students. Distance learning can compound some systemic inequities that already exist in our educational system, particularly in our students of color who have disproportionate access to online resources. In-person instruction can increase COVID-19 transmission and as we learn more about COVID-19, both our models and our real world experience tell us that coronavirus cases and potentially hospitalizations may rise if schools reopen in high prevalence communities where there’s rampant community spread.
Dr. Dean S.: (11:44)
But we also know that COVID-19 poses much less risk to younger students, with data suggesting that children under 10 get the virus at lower rates, get sick less often and have less symptoms with COVID- 19 than older individuals, and seem less able to transmit the virus than older children and adults. We know that some places have reopened school safely. We can learn from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries that have reopened schools. They reopened schools cautiously, and only when rates of new cases were low, testing was available, and that we had support for isolation of individuals with COVID-19 and self quarantine available for context. So there’s no simple statewide answer for Oregon. We need to get our students back to class, but how we do it depends on a number of important factors like the prevalence of the virus, the availability of testing, the capacity of local healthcare system to provide quality care, and the readiness of our public health system to work with schools, to contain any outbreaks that may occur.
Dr. Dean S.: (12:55)
So Oregon public health officials have developed transparent evidence-based metrics to help school boards and school districts make local decisions based on local conditions to determine how they can safely reopen school on in-person instruction. To do this successfully, there are three levels of metrics we’re going to present. The first is a set of metrics that represents the level of disease that we’d like to see for return of in-person instruction, whether this be a hybrid model or full onsite learning. At the state level, we’d like to see the percentage of positive tests be at or below 5% in the preceding seven days over three weeks. At the county level, we’d like to see COVID-19 cases drop below 25 per 100,000 in the population in the preceding seven days. Again, we need to see a trend over three weeks of this decreased case circulation. And the percentage of positive tests in that county should also be at or below 5% during this time.
Dr. Dean S.: (13:59)
There are three important exceptions, if a school district cannot meet all these metrics. Schools will provide in-person education for students in kindergarten through third grade. It’s expected that these in-class options will be offered to the extent possible under the reopening plans. And here’s why; our younger students get the virus at lower rates, get less sick and are less likely to transmit the virus. And these younger students need access to in-person education to build the literacy and numeracy skills that they need that are critical to their continued learning. Remote and rural school districts with less than 100 students and remote and rural private schools with less than 100 students may also offer onsite instruction. These rural communities often lack the online clinic connectivity to effectively support distance learning, and by definition, have small groups and smaller cohorts.
Dr. Dean S.: (14:54)
School districts may also offer limited onsite instruction to students with disabilities or to support other educational needs. School districts should only prioritize these exceptions if COVID-19 is not actively circulating amongst the school community, the rate in their county where they’re located is less than 30 cases per 100,000 in the previous week over three weeks, their test positivity is at or below 5%, again, over the previous three weeks, and that they comply with the guidance in the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance that has been produced. But we know, as Governor Brown said, that opening schools to in-person instruction is not a one way journey. If we see increasing cases in the community, it may be time for schools to consider moving back to comprehensive distance learning. So our second metrics provide some benchmarks for this.
Dr. Dean S.: (15:46)
If we’re seeing the case rate increase 20 or higher per 100,000 in the previous three weeks, if we’re seeing the test positivity rate go to 7.5% or higher, these are signs that schools should begin planning and communicating with families and educators about the potential need to move to comprehensive distance learning. And thirdly, if cases continue to rise at 30 per 100,000 or higher and test positivity rate goes to 10%, schools should consider moving to comprehensive distance learning with all but a few exceptions that we mentioned before. So today in Oregon, we are not where we need to be to safely reopen schools. Case rates over the last week were about 50 per 100,000 statewide. Our test positivity is approaching 5%. Our current case rates are higher than they need to be and are higher than they were in other countries when schools reopened.
Dr. Dean S.: (16:40)
But we can suppress COVID-19 and return to levels where we can reopen schools. We did it before, we’ll do it again. In May, Oregon’s case rate fell to less than one new case for 100,000 people per day statewide. That’s very close and lower than where many of our European and other countries have safely reopened schools. At this time, Oregon’s case rate was lower than that of many-
Dr. Dean S.: (17:03)
At this time Oregon’s case rate was lower than that of many countries that safely were opened and many counties are meeting this metric now, but we all have a role to play. Gather in small groups, keep your distance and cover your face. We’re seeing some glimmers of hope as more Oregonians follow this guidelines and Governor Brown’s mask requirements. The total number of cases began to decrease in the last week. Our hospitalizations are leveling off and our test positivity is declining. Our models indicate that transmission rates are beginning to decline and we could even reach a point with continued cooperation of all Oregonians, where the virus cannot reproduce enough to sustain itself at current levels. But we can’t relent, especially as we all work together to get schools reopened and students back in desks. I want to thank you for everything you’re doing as we fight back against COVID-19 and Oregon, and remember the activities you’re taking, the actions you’re taking right now, help our students return to school and learn across Oregon. Governor Brown.
Governor Brown: (18:05)
Thank you, Dr. Sidelinger. We appreciate your few notes of hope today. I’m going to turn it over to Director Calderon.
Director Calderon: (18:13)
Thank you, governor. I am so pleased to join the governor and Dr. Sidelinger and Director Gil today. The decision schools make related to early childhood, early childhood special education, preschool, kindergarten, through third grade and childcare have important implications for the wellbeing of families, especially our most vulnerable and the longterm success of our youngest Oregonians. Many experts at the national level, including the National Academy of Sciences have recommended that schools prioritize in-person instruction at the elementary level when it is safe to do so. So far, our state is among few that are working to develop guidance to school districts about how to make that possible. This is because brain development in the earliest years of life lays a critical foundation that impacts children into adulthood.
Director Calderon: (19:01)
We know that brain development and learning in the earliest years occurs primarily through nurturing and responsive interactions with adults and other children. Young children are capable of working independently on activities, such as cutting with scissors, counting and sorting, practicing letter sounds, but deep learning for children in the earliest years. Skills such as learning to read requires a parent or a trusted adult there to support them for distance learning to be effective. Many families across Oregon will struggle to make that work not because they don’t want to, but likely because all available adults work jobs with less flexible schedules, they are essential workers and or their work requires them to leave their home. It is also true that some of the most meaningful learning that happens in early childhood education is about helping young children learn how to learn. Early educators are skilled at creating opportunities for young children to learn to work in groups, take turns, learn to pay attention on purpose.
Director Calderon: (20:03)
The less available in-person learning is for our youngest Oregonians, the increased likelihood that more children will miss out on these opportunities and the more uncertainty and stress we will create for our families, especially for those who have been historically underserved. Throughout this emergency, slightly more than half of childcare facilities have stayed open to serve children and families in our state. Early childhood administrators and educators have been following increased safety and health requirements that mandate more hand washing, cleaning, limits on the number of children in care and other changes and adjustments to business as usual. We’ve heard from families about the difficulties with balancing work responsibilities, caring and educating their children at home and their concerns about whether childcare is safe for their children to return to.
Director Calderon: (20:50)
We’ve seen an incredible effort to support children and families by our childcare providers and early education community. For that, we owe them a debt of gratitude. And we have also learned that there is no risk free choice during a pandemic and COVID-19 transmission has occurred in childcare facilities. As we work to update our guidance for childcare and early education for this fall, the safety of adults that work in these programs remains a priority and supporting them to implement the appropriate safety precautions to keep themselves, their staff and the children in their care safe. And we all need to do our part to welcome young children back to school, preschool and childcare as soon as it is safe to do so.
Governor Brown: (21:32)
Thank you. Director Gill.
Director Gill: (21:41)
Thank you, Governor Brown. So I want to be really clear that our highest priority is to open our schools to in-person instruction for our students and that we want each community to have the ability to do that as soon as we believe that they can provide safety and stability for our students, families, and the staff at each of our schools. We delivered the first version of our Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance back on June 10th. And there are three important facts that I want to clarify in that guidance. The first is that at the time we released the guidance, we believed most schools in Oregon would open this fall to some form of in-person instruction. From the data that Dr. Sidelinger shared with you today, you could see that at the time most of Oregon was in a place within that level of community spread that would have been safe to open schools.
Director Gill: (22:36)
The guidance reflected that stance. This also makes it clear that Oregon can return to these same lower rates of community spread that we enjoyed at the end of May and in early June. We can do that by wearing our face coverings, by maintaining physical distancing, by hand washing and by limiting this group sizes of our gatherings. Second, we noted in that guidance that we were about three months into our COVID-19 experience in Oregon at that time and we’d been learning a lot each week of those three months about how to respond to COVID-19. We also noted that on June 10th, we were about three months away from opening our schools in the fall. And that we knew that we would learn a lot each week this summer about how to deal with COVID-19 and where COVID-19 would be in the state of Oregon by the time school started. So we planned regular updates to this guidance. It’s been updated on June 30th, July 22nd and then today with this supplementary guidance.
Director Gill: (23:39)
The next update comes in mid August. And each of these updates reflect new stages of COVID-19 spread in Oregon, as well as new knowledge and efforts aimed at mitigating that spread. Finally, the guidance named that selecting an instructional model and opening to in-person instruction is a local school decision that should be based on a number of factors. First and foremost was local COVID-19 status. That remains true today. This supplementary guidance helps schools and districts understand their COVID-19 status so that they can open to in-person instruction as soon as community spread is at a level that makes it safe and ensure that our schools don’t become agents of further spread. Based on today’s COVID-19 and test positivity rates, many schools in Oregon are preparing to open under comprehensive distance learning. This model of distance learning will look different than it did this spring. This spring, our schools had to close their doors to in-person instruction overnight. Schools, educators, and families rushed to put together the best supports possible on a tight timeline. Overnight, every teacher in Oregon became a first year teacher, as they tried to deliver instruction over entirely new platforms. This falls’ comprehensive distance learning guidance has a rigorous requirements for teacher training, family engagement, a common platform for students in each school, daily engagement between the educators and the students, social emotional and mental health supports, access to quality grade level curriculum, and assessment of student progress through Oregon’s academic content standards, and importantly, equitable internet access and devices for each students. COVID-19 has highlighted inequities in Oregon. People of color and those in our rural communities have been disproportionately impacted by the illness and the economic challenges that it’s created. The closure of schools to in-person instruction and move to distance learning in the spring had differential impacts on children and families. Some students were not fully able to participate due to a lack of a device or the inability to get online. Some students experiencing disability and then younger students, as Director Calderon pointed out, had more difficulty fully participating in distance learning.
Director Gill: (26:14)
As school’s plan for the fall, using equity as a foundation for each decision is critical. As Oregon moves beyond an emergency response to now in a planned response for schools this fall, schools have an increased opportunity and responsibility to prioritize and target investments for students who have been historically underserved by our system and those impacted by the closures this spring. Schools can now plan ahead for comprehensive distance learning and directly focus on closing persistent gaps and inequities while maintaining high expectations for students and staff. Our guidance names these issues and provides recommendations, requirements, and resources to help including equity-based decision trees, requirements to maintain access to school meals during distance learning, access to limited in-person instruction to support students who experience a disability, students who are emerging bilinguals and other students with special learning needs. Also, provisions to provide in-person instruction for early literacy. And critically, state business and philanthropic partnerships to bring resources for technology into the hands of our students and educators.
Director Gill: (27:36)
The $28 million in the CARES Act to the Governor’s Fund that Governor Brown talked about will help ensure that we can provide more access and connectivity, that students and teachers have the devices they need to connect with one another from a distance. Digital content and curriculum will be up to par. Online learning management systems that will help students and their teachers connect with one another and professional development for our teachers, as well as technology support for families. Partnerships with internet service providers and telecom can help provide wifi hotspots and more access and donation programs from businesses will help get devices in the hands of our students. Our schools and educators will work hard to meet these needs and recognize and learn from the strengths of Oregon students and families. We can do this well at a distance, but our collective goal is always to return to in-person instruction.
Director Gill: (28:36)
We all, as Oregonians have a part to play in that. Opening school to in-person instruction is not a one-way journey. If cases increase in local communities, schools will need to move back to comprehensive distance learning to further mitigate spread in that community. Widespread community commitment to physical distancing, to wearing your face coverings, to regular hand-washing and to limiting your group gatherings will help get us on a track to open our schools. The next four to six weeks can put us on that trajectory to opening schools to in-person instruction. This is what our students and families need and we can all help achieve this goal. Thank you.
Governor Brown: (29:20)
Thank you. I think Charles, we’re ready for questions.
Thanks everyone for calling in today. We’ll get started with Lisa Balick from KOIN. Go ahead, Lisa. All right we’ll come back to Lisa and go to Pat Dooris with KGW. Go ahead.
Pat Dooris: (29:46)
Oh yes. Hi. Thanks for taking my question. Governor, under your rules, it looks like Multnomah County would have to have about 81 cases per week. And last week we had 453 cases. How are we ever going to meet that metric?
Governor Brown: (30:03)
Really good question, Pat. As you know, since we began the reopening process, we’ve seen a substantial increase in cases, not only in Multnomah County, but in communities around the state of Oregon. And I have taken some really strong steps, including requiring face coverings when in public spaces, limiting informal social gatherings to 10 and under, and also making sure we’re limiting venue gatherings around the state. But honestly, the decision about whether our kids get back into school, whether it’s in Multnomah County or Malheur County is really up to each and every one of us as Oregonians. We can all play a role in stemming the spread of the virus as Dr. Sidelinger and Director Gill have said by maintaining your physical distance, by wearing your face covering and continuing to wash, wash, wash your hands. We know we can do this and it’s up to all of us.
Pat Dooris: (31:13)
And then a quick follow up, if I could, are the districts required to follow these rules or could individual school districts disregard them and do what they want?
Governor Brown: (31:22)
Thanks. I’m going to have Director Gil respond to that question.
Director Gill: (31:25)
Thank you. These are a requirement of directive that set of criteria for when schools can consider in-person instruction. Each community is different and they will arrive at the decision once they meet the criteria about when and how to move into a hybrid model or an onsite model that may include more students every day. So there will be a transition and each district is required to develop a transition plan, moving both directions so that they can plan for a return to in-person instruction.
Pat Dooris: (32:01)
We’ll go next to Lashay Wesley with KATU. Go ahead, Lashay.
Lashay Wesley: (32:09)
Thank you. So my question is, do any areas in the state currently use these methods, and Governor are you prepared to introduce the restriction in order to lower cases so schools can reopen?
Governor Brown: (32:24)
An answer to your last question, as I’ve said before, all options are on the table to restrict the transmission of the virus, but it is really in the hands of Oregonians. And I’m asking Oregonians to take this very, very seriously. It’s critically important for our kids to be in the classrooms. And if we can’t enable that to happen in the short term, to ensure that they have access to good quality, comprehensive distance learning. And I will be pushing our school districts and our educators across the state to make sure that every child, regardless of where they live or who they are, has access to a good quality education. Dr. Sidelinger, her first question.
Dr. Dean S.: (33:14)
Thank you, Governor Brown. While we are posting the data about the case rates per county and the percent positivities across counties so that individuals can look up and see where their community stand. Right now, there’s one county that would meet the criteria for reopening schools to in-person instruction, with the exception of our statewide positivity, not being down below 5% for three weeks. But we know that there are many more counties, about 13, that would meet the criteria under the exceptions to bring back in-person instruction for our kindergarten through third grade students who would most benefit from this instruction as well as remote and rural schools in many counties that can meet these criteria. What we also see that’s encouraging as we look at data in some of the other counties that haven’t met-
Dr. Dean S.: (34:03)
… encouraging as we look at data in some of the other counties that haven’t met this exception for kindergarten through third grade, that many are trending in the right direction. We’re seeing case rates go down. I will call out Lincoln and Union County, for example, that were hard hit by large outbreaks with community spread throughout the month of June. And have continued because of statewide action implemented by Governor Brown and actions taken by local officials, our public health response to bring case rates down and are approaching where they need to be to bring education back.
Dr. Dean S.: (34:34)
No, not everyone is there, but many counties will meet this metric for some of the most vulnerable students. And I look forward to public health partnering with them to successfully bring these schools safely back onto campus.
Thanks [LaShay 00:00:34:48]. We’ll go next to Sarah Klein with the Associated Press. Go ahead, Sarah.
Sarah Klein: (34:54)
Hi. I had a couple of questions. I know you guys were talking about the metrics. I was wondering if there’s been more talks about what will happen inside the school? If students do go back, will they be tested? Will they be temperature checked before they go through the doors? Or anything like that?
Governor Brown: (35:10)
Thank you, Sarah. I know that the guidance that the Department of Education put out is 45 pages long, so it’s quite extensive. And I’m going to turn that question over to Director Gill.
Director Gill: (35:22)
Yeah. Thank you. So there is a screening every day for students and staff as they return to our schools. So when we have school districts that can open to in person instruction, or even when we have limited cases for the kindergarten through third grade, that we’re prioritizing, at the moment a student enters a school bus, at the moment they enter a building, they’ll be screened for symptoms. And families will be asked to affirm that the student doesn’t have a temperature of above 100.4.
Director Gill: (35:56)
So there are those guidelines, plus a lot more around physical distancing. We require for kindergarten and up, face coverings in most settings in schools. And we also have cohorts. Cohorts help us limit the number of students who would be impacted if there were an outbreak. So, students are no longer interacting with all the other children in the school, but only with those students in their cohort.
Governor Brown: (36:25)
Sarah Klein: (36:26)
Dr. Dean S.: (36:27)
Can I add about it [crosstalk 00:02:27]-
Governor Brown: (36:28)
Sure, go ahead.
Dr. Dean S.: (36:29)
Just to add, Sarah, you asked specifically about testing. This is Dean Sidelinger with the Oregon Health Authority. I think while right now we don’t have plans to test every staff member or student who returns to school, the safeguards we have in place, and the metrics we have in place to reopen schools when community transmission is lower, I think serve as measures of safety for our school communities.
Dr. Dean S.: (36:52)
As testing increases, particularly testing with quick turnaround, we will have the ability to respond to disease in these settings. And if needed, and if that testing capacity is there and the evidence shows it, to institute more testing of individuals when they arrive at schools. But right now, with the evidence we have and the resources we have, we have put many measures and differing levels of safety in place to safely return staff and students to schools. Focusing on those learners who will benefit the most, and be least likely to spread the disease in those settings.
Thanks, Sarah. Up next, I think we’ve got Lisa Baylock back from Coyne. Go ahead, Lisa.
Lisa Baylock: (37:31)
Yeah. Hi [inaudible 00:37:32] hear me?
Governor Brown: (37:33)
Lisa Baylock: (37:36)
Yes. Two questions, one first for the Governor. Instead of running the risk of having students go back to school, there’s cases of COVID, and the school has to shut down, and they all have to go online. Why not just say it’s going to be all online until Christmas break and reassess then to be able to have the teachers prepare in the next month or so, for essentially what could be inevitable?
Governor Brown: (38:02)
That’s a really good question, Lisa. And the reason why I’ve been reluctant to move all of our education immediately and statewide to comprehensive distance learning, or online learning, is because not all of Oregon looks alike. And there are pockets, and communities around the state of Oregon where we have relatively low virus rates. And so it makes sense to allow them to move forward with in-person education.
Governor Brown: (38:36)
But the second piece is there’s a lot of kids who are going to struggle with online learning. And as I mentioned in my opening remarks, particularly kids kindergarten to third grade, it’s really challenging to teach kids how to read online. It’s hard to teach kids numbers online, unless you have a skilled adult, a caring adult there, present for the child. And so we think it’s incredibly important to get these kids in the classroom as much as possible.
Governor Brown: (39:13)
My guide posts have been very, very clear. We’re going to continue to work to make sure that our students, whether they’re in a classroom learning or through distance learning, or some type of hybrid, can stay safe, that our teachers can stay safe. And of course, that our professional staff can stay safe. And we’re also very committed to making sure that every child gets access to a high quality education.
Lisa Baylock: (39:39)
Quick question for Dr. Sidelinger, follow up on the checks at the school door. Why not do temperature checks? Since visually checking, when a child is wearing a mask, and there’s nothing like measles showing on their face, what exactly would they be checking for? And why not do temperature checks?
Dr. Dean S.: (40:02)
I thank you for that question. I think when we look at the symptoms of COVID-19, not everyone has a fever, and particularly in our younger kids, they don’t always have fevers. So we are asking parents to think about the symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 that their child has had. And for individuals to do those checks at the door to try and prevent the introduction of COVID-19.
Dr. Dean S.: (40:26)
But as we stated, one of the reasons we’re returning in-person instruction to our youngest children is because they’re less likely to show symptoms, less likely to develop complications, and less likely to transmit the disease to others. So these checks are not going to pick up everyone who has COVID-19. Some individuals may not have symptoms, and that’s why we’re looking for decreased community spread before we allow this to happen.
Dr. Dean S.: (40:51)
In our limited experience with COVID-19 and schools before schools closed in March, we did have cases associated with schools. Public health partnered with those schools, with those school districts and local officials to investigate those cases and to limit the spread in schools. We will continue to have a robust partnership between public health and schools.
Dr. Dean S.: (41:11)
If a case is identified with a school, if more than one case is identified, we will investigate those cases. Right now, the adults and the children in schools are in smaller cohorts, or groups. And so that we can identify who they had contact with, limit their contact and do our investigations. If students and teachers, and staff in that cohort need to go home because of exposures, it won’t necessarily impact the whole school. So we will work together on this continued partnership to provide the safety that we need for all individuals in these school settings and provide safety to their families that they return home to.
Thanks, Lisa. Next up, we have Rachel Monahan with Willamette week. Go ahead, Rachel.
Rachel Monahan: (41:58)
Hi, Governor. You mentioned that all of us have a part to play, and that we can together bring down the number of cases, but of course, you’re the Governor. And I’m wondering what, if anything, you plan to do to bring the case count down in the next couple of weeks so kids could go back to school?
Governor Brown: (42:22)
Thanks, Rachel. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been very clear that all options are still on the table in terms of bringing the case rates down. We have taken numerous steps in the last couple of weeks. I am talking with other governors in the Western states to talk about what I would consider travel advisories to limit the number of folks that are traveling through Oregon.
Governor Brown: (42:52)
As you are probably aware, Oregon is basically surrounded by hot spot states, including California, Idaho. I think Washington’s starting to cool off at this point in time. Obviously, I have other tools available to me and we’re working with medical experts through my medical advisory panel and epidemiologists and physicians at the Oregon Health Authority. We’ll continue to make decisions based on science and data, and I’ll make the best decisions I can with the information I have in front of me at the time.
Rachel Monahan: (43:29)
Quickly, do these criteria applies to private schools as well as public schools?
Governor Brown: (43:36)
Rachel Monahan: (43:39)
Thanks, Rachel. Next up we have Brenna Kelly from KP TV. Go ahead, Brenna.
Brenna Kelly: (43:47)
Thanks. This question is for the Governor, I wanted to ask about transportation to schools, and maybe this also can be for Colt Gill. [inaudible 00:43:56] about a month ago, ODE said this was really the toughest challenge, or one of the toughest challenges. And it’s one of the biggest topics on family’s minds. I know there are updated guidelines in ready schools, safe learners surrounding health precautions, like physical distancing. Can you speak to the routing adjustments, and basically how you’ll get kids to school on time?
Governor Brown: (44:16)
Thank you. That’s a really good question. I just have to say, I know that this is going to be really challenging for our families across the state that have children in schools. This school year is not going to look like normal. It’s not going to feel like normal. I know it’s really challenging for our working parents in particular. The folks who are both caring for their kids and working outside the home, it’s extremely challenging. And it’s going to be really, really hard for kids.
Governor Brown: (44:52)
I know so many kids that are going to cry when they learn that they can’t go to school like normal this year. And so I just want to say, I know this is hard. I know it’s not going to look like normal. We are truly all in this together and we’re going to all have to work together to get the virus rates down so that we can get as many kids back into the classroom as quickly as possible. Director Gill, you want to talk a little bit about transportation?
Director Gill: (45:21)
Sure. Thank you. Transportation is a big issue, but it is like all of the challenges for Oregon schools, it looks very different community to community. So in Oregon, we have 197 school districts, about a dozen of those serve 10,000 or more students, and about a dozen of those serve fewer than 10 students. So you can imagine some of the rural parts of Oregon, there aren’t as many students on a school bus necessarily, but they’re there for a much longer period of time.
Director Gill: (45:51)
In some of our towns in Oregon, those school buses are serving a number of students outside the city limits. And then they come in and they pick up several students who are actually within the walking zone of the school, just to help out the family. And because a lot of our towns in Oregon don’t necessarily have great sidewalks in the entire path from a student’s home to their school.
Director Gill: (46:17)
And then in our cities, many students are walkers. So they walk or bike or ride to school. And that’s one of the things that we’ve been trying to promote in Oregon, both for student health. So we are going to, like Governor Brown said, we’re all going to have to come together. We’re going to need to make some sacrifices. Our transportation systems will be challenged. We only have a certain number of school buses, and school bus drivers in Oregon. The school bus capacity will be reduced significantly when we implement physical distancing.
Director Gill: (46:53)
The wearing a face coverings will help with that. Any kind of support that families can provide to help take their children to school will help reduce. And for each community, the routing of buses and the number of bus runs will look different district to district. And they will need to plan based on where students live, and based on where the school’s located and how safe it is to walk, or bike, or ride to school.
Thanks, Brenna. Next up, we have Eder Campuzano, with The Oregonian. Go ahead Eder.
Pat Dooris: (47:35)
Hello? Can everyone hear me?
Governor Brown: (47:36)
Pat Dooris: (47:38)
I am. Can you hear me now?
Governor Brown: (47:39)
Pat Dooris: (47:39)
Beautiful. Beautiful. So we’re wondering, what has the statewide positive test rates been, in each of the three previous weeks currently? And could you tell us what the most recent time at which Oregon’s rate was at 5% for lower for three consecutive weeks?
Governor Brown: (47:59)
Thank you, Eder. I’m going to turn that over to Dr. Sidelinger.
Dr. Dean S.: (48:02)
Sorry to step on your Governor. [crosstalk 00:48:04]. I thought that was coming my way. When we look at the test positivity in Oregon, we’ve always had a fairly low test positivity. Three weeks ago, it was close to 6%, and now it’s down close to 5%. Our test positivity rate had been below 5% from the end of June. And that had started really at the beginning of April. So from April to the end of June, our test positivity rate was under 5%. We just recently came up above 5%, close to 6%, but again, we’re trending back down.
Dr. Dean S.: (48:38)
So I think that has positivity rate, if things continue the way they are, will continue to set our local communities up for successful reopening. And when we look at several counties, their test positivity rates meet that metric, or going towards that metric. So I think we are in a good place right now with testing. With testing supplies and constraints that can always change. that we’ve had many conversations about testing and our inability sometimes to get reagents, or swabs, or pipette tips. So we’ll continue to do everything we can to bring those resources to Oregon. So we can get test results back to clinicians, back to public health in a timely fashion.
Pat Dooris: (49:19)
Okay. And I wanted to actually also follow up on something you said earlier about, state school specific, not outbreaks per se, but cases that were found in schools. I remember having those first confirmed cases be, say at a school in Lake Oswego, one in Hillsborough.
Pat Dooris: (49:40)
And I’m wondering that under your guidelines here, if one school building per se, were to account for a certain percentage of positive cases in a County, would you have a different, I guess, approach to addressing that at that particular school building? Versus having those measures move out to the rest of the County that that particular building is in. Or, is that a contingency that you are at all entertaining?
Dr. Dean S.: (50:12)
Yeah. So thank you for that question. I think when we respond to cases of COVID-19 in Oregon or outbreaks of COVID-19 in Oregon, each situation is a little different. But let’s talk about our response to COVID-19 in schools in Oregon. Every case of COVID-19 that’s associated with the school will come to our public health attention.
Dr. Dean S.: (50:35)
When we see two or more cases, we will work aggressively to find out who may have been exposed within the community, within households, and in particular within schools. That’s one of the reasons why our ready schools safe learner’s guidance has really strong measures in there about limiting the size of groups that can gather, or the cohort size. So if we see an adult staff member in school, or a child who’s attended-
Dr. Dean S.: (51:03)
An adult staff member in school or a child who’s attended school while they were potentially infectious, we’ll work within that cohort size to identify who may have been exposed and to take appropriate public health actions to isolate those individuals who are sick or test positive, and quarantine others who’ve had close contact. If we see that there’s been exposure or even spread to other cohorts within that building, we would take additional actions for those other cohorts, and may work on school wide actions depending on the spread. Public health is used to working with our schools. They do it year round for gastrointestinal illness and other respiratory illnesses. That partnership certainly increases every flu season as we identify cases associated with school. And while COVID-19 is a novel virus and seems to have more complications in particular subsets, those with underlying conditions and older adults, we can deal with this virus with many of the same tools we already have.
Dr. Dean S.: (52:01)
Those plans were in place before COVID-19. Those plans have been enhanced with the ready schools safe learners, and we are currently developing increased guidance on how we respond to each case and each outbreak in schools to provide safety to the school community and the households they go back to.
Next up, we have Natalie Pate with the Statesman Journal. Go ahead, Natalie.
Brenna Kelly: (52:28)
Hi. Governor, you mentioned earlier that this does apply to both private and public schools. Can you clarify explicitly how this affects schools at youth correctional facilities and other specialty schools like the Chemawa Native American Boarding school in Salem?
Governor Brown: (52:46)
Thank you. I’m going to turn that over to Director Gill.
Director Gill: (52:49)
Thank you, Natalie. So, make sure I state this clearly. So the metrics that we’re using at the county level remove the case counts for correctional facilities and detention facilities. So we’re not including those in the community spread counts and that’s basically. Dr. Sidelinger can speak to this more clearly, but that’s basically because there hasn’t been a tendency in Oregon for those to spread into the broader community. So there are clearly staff that move in and out of the facilities, but that hasn’t caused community spread in Oregon. So the converse is also true. We’re not going to use the county numbers to determine when it’s time to open an educational program in one of our youth correction or juvenile detention facilities. We will use the case counts within the facility itself, and when that facility is safe for staff to reenter, we want to include in person instruction in those facilities.
Director Gill: (53:53)
The guidance does apply to all of our private schools and public schools. We have boarding schools that are both private and public in Oregon and it applies to them as well. There are more complexities with boarding schools, as some of our students come from outside the state, come from outside the country, and closing down to in-person instruction in an emergency situation, we found was challenging in the spring, and could continue to be challenging this fall or through the school year. So we will work closely with each of those schools to ensure that there’s a smooth transition if they have to move away from in-person instruction to distance learning.
Governor Brown: (54:36)
Thank you. Dr. Sidelinger, do you want to add?
Dr. Dean S.: (54:36)
Thank you, Governor Brown, Director Gill. I think just to build on what Director Gill said. Right now we are presenting the raw rates of cases in counties, but we know from previous experience, our correctional facility outbreaks don’t have significant spillover into community spread. So when we notice that counties are getting close to meeting the metrics for exceptions for K-3 students to come back, or for the full metrics to bring students back on campus, and if they’re experiencing an outbreak in a correctional facility, we can remove those cases and recalculate the rate, because we want to set those schools up for success, and if the cases in the community aren’t going to contribute to community spread or be at risk for spreading into the school, we don’t want to count that against those students and those teachers who want to get back to school.
Dr. Dean S.: (55:23)
The same thing, if we see a limited outbreak in another setting that’s contained, again, we don’t want to hold that against those schools as they try to reopen. So we will take those cases out and recalculate the rates. We want to reopen schools to in-person instruction safely, and we don’t want to put hindrances in place that could stop that from happening.
Thanks, Natalie. We have time for just a few more questions, so I’m going to go next to Lauren Negrete with KVAL. Val. Go ahead, Lauren.
Lisa Baylock: (55:51)
Hi. Thank you so much. Two questions. One, about getting kids to keep masks, the other, Oregon graduation rate. So first off, what are the guidelines, if any, for teachers to get kids to understand to keep their masks on, to social distance when we look at these K through third graders.
Governor Brown: (56:10)
Thanks, Lauren. Two things. I want to respond to the face coverings. And again, saying to parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, people who are helping care for all of our children in the state, the reason why we issued the face covering policy when we did is we wanted to get our students prepared and ready to be wearing face coverings if they live in a district where they can go back to school. And so we think it’s really important for parents to be working with their medical health professionals, make sure they’re doing it right, make sure the mask fits and all that good stuff. So should the school doors, open kids are going to be really ready and wearing their face coverings. In terms of graduation rates, Lauren, I wasn’t sure what your question was.
Lisa Baylock: (57:02)
Right. If it’s been the state goal to improve the Oregon graduation rate, can that be achieved with hybrid with distance learning as we look to this, like you’re saying, this un-normal new normal?
Governor Brown: (57:14)
Thank you, Lauren. My goal as Governor is to make sure that every student graduates from high school with a plan for their future and the tools to be able to achieve, to succeed in this very global economy. We have made really solid strides forward in the last handful of years, obviously more work to do before we achieve that goal, that vision. And obviously having the global pandemic, having the presence of COVID-19 in our communities around the state is going to be really challenging for a number of high school students.
Governor Brown: (57:59)
I do want to say thank you. I’ve had a couple of high school students on our Healthy Schools Reopening Council, and they have been extremely articulate, very passionate about the importance of in-person learning for many of their classmates, their friends, their colleagues. They understand that it’s not just what you read in a book, what you learned from your teacher, but it’s the socialization. It’s the hands on learning in a career and technical ed class that’s critically important for many students across the state.
Governor Brown: (58:38)
I don’t know, Director Gill, if you want to add anything to that.
Director Gill: (58:40)
Yeah, I do, if there’s time. To both of those, the face coverings, Governor Brown is exactly correct. So the more that families can practice with their children right now to help children feel comfortable wearing a face covering, wearing it for longer periods of time each day as we get closer to opening a school to the in-person instruction is really helpful. But outside of that, I would just want to share that our educators and our schools are experts at teaching routines to students. They do this all the time. So when students come to school, lining up is not a routine for them. Going down the hallway walking is not a routine. Having a bathroom pass is not a routine that people typically have at home. So our schools and our educators know how to teach newer routines to students and will help them get comfortable with it, and it will become normalized in that school setting.
Director Gill: (59:35)
So I don’t anticipate significant issues with the face coverings. I think our students will learn to understand why it is that they’re wearing them, and it will just be a practice that is normal at schools when school comes around in the fall.
Director Gill: (59:50)
And then as to our goals around graduation rates, our graduation rates have increased significantly over the last five years, and my hope is that they continue to do so. I know that our educators at schools and our superintendents and school board members have all been driven around the school to continually improve Oregon’s graduation outcomes. These new challenges we have in how we deliver instruction will be challenging for us. But I know that our school districts have been working through the summer, since before we even delivered the first set of guidance on June 10th, to think about how they can provide professional learning for the teachers, so that they understand how they can deliver in these new settings.
Director Gill: (01:00:40)
We’re going to be working with the State Board of Education this fall to allow for additional teacher professional learning time. In our instructional time requirements, we allow for 30 hours of professional learning time a year for our teachers right now, and we’re hoping to triple that so that we can ensure that our teachers are ready to teach under these new circumstances.
Governor Brown: (01:01:07)
Thanks, Lauren. We’re a little over time. We have time for just one more question so we’re going to go to Kaylee Tornay with the Medford Mail Tribune. Go ahead to Kaylee.
Speaker 1: (01:01:16)
Hi, thanks. I was curious whether a school that may not be able to reopen for in-person learning will be prohibited from participating in athletics come this fall.
Governor Brown: (01:01:32)
Dr. Dean S.: (01:01:34)
Thank you for that question. I know as important as returning to in-person education is critical to our families, participation in athletics is also critical. That’s one of the most popular topics I get in my email inbox with parents wanting to return to playing sports. What we have in place in Oregon is guidance that can allow that to safely happen. For most of our counties in phase two, they’re able to do recreational activities for all non-contact sports at a smaller gathering size. There are some particular restrictions in phase one counties that we have not moved forward because we’ve seen increased spread throughout the state and haven’t added those additional activities. But we’re refining our recreational sports guidance specific to K-12 so that we can have guidance to provide the schools as they reopen.
Dr. Dean S.: (01:02:27)
We know OSAA, their counterparts in Washington, California, and other states have put out guidance around dealing some sports and we certainly take that into account. And what we want to do is get kids back to being active and playing competitive sports where it’s safe. We know that right now we have some guidance in place to practice, to scrimmage in all but contact sports, that it will likely be some before we write guidance to safely return kids to contact sports. We’ve seen whether, it’s professional, collegiate, or even adolescent and youth sports, we’ve seen spread in these settings, particularly amongst contact sports.
Dr. Dean S.: (01:03:07)
We know that we won’t be able to have schools compete with the broad array of communities across state lines, across communities as they did before, but we hope to be able to put some guidance in place that can allow for some of that limited competition, so students, kids, and their families can really benefit from that, and that guidance should be forthcoming.
Governor Brown: (01:03:28)
I’ll just close with Kaylee. My heart goes out to all the high school students who were working towards that letter or working on a team to achieve a championship this year. The sports year is going to look very different just like the school year is, and I just know that participating in whether it’s volleyball, or don’t know about football, but basketball, other activities are so important for our kids’ emotional health. It’s so important for their physical health. And I know that the sports activities are limited due to the virus and that this is really challenging, not only for parents, but particularly for our student athletes that have been working so hard to achieve goals this school year.
Governor Brown: (01:04:21)
So with that, I will just close by encouraging Oregonians to help participate in getting the virus rates down by watching your physical distance, wearing your face covering, and of course, wash, wash, washing your hands. I would certainly ask folks to keep their informal social gatherings way down to limit the spread, and of course, to watch out for your family, your friends and your community members. Thanks so much.