How cohorting helps schools continue in-person learning during COVID-19

Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) have recommended layered health and safety measures for the protection of all children and staff in Oregon schools. How much protection do these measures provide?

Every layer matters. Cohorting is when your student is with the same group (cohort) of children for most of the school day. They go to the same activities and classes. This helps their teacher keep track of each student. If a student gets sick from COVID-19, the spread of COVID-19 will be less, because the student is only interacting with a smaller group of students. In addition, the number of people who need to quarantine will be less as well.

How cohorting helps prevent the spread of COVID-19

In Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-22 School Year, OHA and ODE strongly advise that schools design cohorts for students to the extent possible. Cohorts minimize school-wide disruptions in student learning once a COVID-19 case is identified by:

  • Limiting the number of students exposed to the infected person.
  • Supporting quick identification of students exposed to the infected person.
  • Minimizing the number of students who may need to be quarantined.

Students are exposed if they have close contact for longer than 15 cumulative minutes in a day with the infected person. Each exposed student will need to quarantine if the school cannot confirm that either of the following was maintained during the school day:

  • Six feet of distancing, or
  • Three feet of distancing with consistent, correct mask use of well-fitting face coverings by both the infected person and people exposed to the infected person.

Cohorting allows schools to more easily assess whether exposed students need to quarantine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied COVID-19 transmission in K-12 schools and found low COVID-19 transmission levels among students in schools that used multiple prevention strategies, including cohorting.

Things to keep in mind about cohorting

In Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, OHA and ODE advise that full-time student cohorts:

  • Should not be based on any demographic or disability criteria (e.g., students with complex medical needs, students with Individual Education Plans, students receiving language services, etc.).
  • Should create small groups within cohorts around skills and instructional needs. For example, a small instructional math group can be organized that is diverse by demographics, any disability criteria, speech/language services, or English language development.

What to do if you have concerns about cohorting

All Oregon school districts have posted their current COVID-19 safety protocols, which explain how they are following the Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance. You can find links to information for your school district on ODE’s Ready Schools website.

If you believe a school is not in compliance with Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners guidance, you can file a named or confidential complaint with Oregon OSHA at 1-833-604-0884 or online. School safety and other COVID-19 school related questions can be answered by emailing ODE.

The best protection: COVID-19 vaccines

All three COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 infection leading to hospitalization. If you or children in your care are in contact with other school-age children, you should make a plan to have anyone age 12 years or older vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for children.

  • If anyone in your household is fully vaccinated and eligible for a booster dose or third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, they should also plan to get their additional dose.
  • We expect federal authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 years later this year in a diluted form. Full approval of a vaccine authorized under Emergency Use Authorization is expected usually six months or later after the initial authorization.

If you care for children age 12 years or older visit OHA’s Find a COVID-19 Vaccine in Oregon web page to schedule their vaccine appointment today.