Schools urged to stop sports for a month
January 5, 2022
Sweet Home school officials were scrambling Monday evening, Jan. 3, after the Oregon Department of Education recommended earlier in the day that schools cease after-school extracurricular activities to reduce the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
The ODE issued the School Health Advisory as “the most critical and urgent issued to date” on Monday after announcements by medical authorities that omicron numbers were pushing up COVID rates around the state.
The ODE’s advisory stopped short of requiring school shutdowns and cessation of athletics, which are indoor sports – basketball, swimming, wrestling, dance and cheer during the early winter months at Sweet Home High School, stating: “To maintain the continuity of instruction during school this year, OHA and ODE are issuing the following School Health Advisory, to remain in effect statewide Jan. 3 – Jan. 31, unless otherwise updated.”
School District Supt. Lisa Riggs said Monday night that the district would continue with sports, following the same protocols as used in school.
“Since these are only recommendations, we continue as we have and will listen to the updates if they become mandatory,” she said.
Riggs said she would be conferring with other superintendents in the region, but would be connecting with School Board members to plot strategy.
Meanwhile, Athletic Dan Tow was contacted by a reporter Monday as he returned from a “fact-finding” meeting of his colleagues in the Oregon West Conference, which includes Cascade High School in Turner, Newport, Philomath, Sisters, Stayton and Woodburn, as well as Sweet Home.
With league basketball action scheduled to start the next day, and wrestling scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Jan. 6 and 7, in the Main Gym, Tow said they were were waiting for more information, including guidance from their supervisors and state agencies, including the OSAA.
“We’re under the assumption we’re going to get a little more guidance,” he said.
Riggs said she expected the Oregon Health Authority to come out later this week “with revisions, which may have us follow new guidelines.
Tow said it would be “pretty hard” to have some schools opt out and others continue with sports.
“If one school does this, that has an effect on everybody,” Tow said. “What our hope is is that the kids can keep playing and the most drastic thing we do is not have spectators – and we don’t want that either. We don’t want that at all.”
Monday was a busy day for Riggs, who acknowledged that, with state COVID numbers on the rise, the ODE’s advisory didn’t come as a surprise.
On the first day back from winter break, “I was worried about everything,” she said, particularly weather conditions.
The advisory came after a forecast Friday, Dec. 31, from Oregon Health & Science University’s Dr. Peter Graven, director of the school’s Office of Advanced Analytics, projected that the omicron variant would make about 1,650 Oregonians sick enough that they would need hospital treatment.
That total dwarfs the peak Oregon saw in September, when 1,187 people were hospitalized. The surge in September put such a strain on hospitals that the state recruited out-of-state nurses and turned to the Oregon National Guard for help.
In an interview with oregoncapitalchronicle.com reporter Les Zaitz, Graven noted that the state has a bout 4,700 hospital beds and nearly all are already full. But the forecast indicates hundreds of new COVID patients are likely to require hospitalization in a surge that crests in late January.
“We don’t have room,” he said, urging vaccinations as essential.
Hospitals in the East are reporting three unvaccinated people hospitalized for every vaccinated person admitted.
Graven’s forecast said research in Denmark showed that the booster was only about 50% effective at preventing an omicron infection. However, he said, it has proven valuable in keeping people from getting so sick they are hospitalized or even die.
The state education agency’s advisory emphasized state regulations in dealing with students or staff who show symptoms of COVID or have had “close contact” with someone who has, and urged schools to “work with health partners to offer vaccination clinics and encourage eligible students and staffs to get their vaccinations and boosters.”
It urged families to “not send” children displaying COVID-19 symptoms to school, and to get a test. Also, the ODE advised families with school-aged children and educators to “limit gatherings and non-essential activities with people from other households to the extent possible throughout January and February.”
More advisories would be issued “to identify additional steps families, schools, and/or communities can take to help keep our children safely learning in our schools,” the ODE said. “These advisories may be regional or statewide.”
Riggs noted that Sweet Home School Board members have indicated they’re not interested in shutting down schools – or sports.
“The board, all along, has said – and I believe it too – that learning is social,” she said.
She said the district would await guidance from the OSAA, which governs high school sports.
“Typically, we follow the guidelines,” she said, adding that “board support” would be necessary to make changes.
“Sports are what got us coming back, that got us going,” she said. “I’ve always encouraged them because that’s what keeps our kids healthy and happy. Those the we could continue to do, that’s what I would want to do.”
– For more on the coronavirus projections, visit oregoncapitalchronicle.com, which contributed to this story.