How keeping our distance helps students keep learning in-person this school year

Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education 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. The more distance there is between people, the less likely that virus-filled droplets will pass from one person to another.

Oregon’s layered health and safety measures

How physical distancing keeps us safe from COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus can spread easily from person to person. To reduce the spread, we stayed home as much as possible at the beginning of the pandemic and avoided crowded, public places where distancing was difficult. While this was the safest form of physical distancing, a review of several studies about children’s mental health during COVID-19 found that social isolation was a cause of concern among parents and children. However, children can still distance at school without feeling isolated.

Physical distancing at school can keep children safer from COVID-19 because:

  • It reduces the chance that someone inhales a sick person’s respiratory droplets.
  • It helps reduce COVID-19 transmission. This allows the health care system to be ready for patients who need care for other conditions.

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 kept six feet or shorter physical distance when the school implemented and layered other prevention strategies, such as the use of masks.

In Oregon’s Ready Schools, Safe Learners Resiliency Framework for the 2021-22 School Year, OHA and ODE have strongly advised Oregon schools to:

  • Support physical distancing in all daily activities and instruction, maintaining at least 3 feet between students to the extent possible.
  • When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as wearing face coverings and improved ventilation and filtration.
  • Consider physical distancing requirements when setting up learning and other spaces, arranging spaces and groups to allow and encourage at least 3 feet of physical distance.
  • Minimize time standing in lines and take steps to ensure that required distance between students is maintained, including marking spacing on floor, one-way traffic flow in constrained spaces, etc.

In their most recent School Health Advisory, ODE also urged schools to review their Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plans to:

  • Consider how they can implement additional layers of protection (examples include increased airflow and circulation, implementing all three COVID-19 testing programs, retraining staff on all protocols, and ensuring all staff, students and families know the COVID-19 symptoms).
  • Enhance implementation of current layers (examples include reviewing contact logs, class and bus seating charts, transition activities, and mealtime practices for improvement).

What to do if you have concerns about physical distancing at your local schools

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

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.

  • Additionally, 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 ages 5—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.