Omicron prompts activities advisory from ODE and OHA

Mapleton Middle and High School Principal Brenda Moyer, seen here reminding spectators of proper masking techniques, has been strictly enforcing all mandates since the start of the 2021-22 school year. (Photo by Zac Burtt/Siuslaw News)

Siuslaw and Mapleton schools to continue extracurriculars with caution

Jan. 7, 2022 —  As a result of the Omicron variant and the extreme uptick of COVID-19 cases, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) issued an advisory to school districts across the state regarding extracurricular activities.

Current modeling from Oregon Health Sciences University shows that Oregon will likely experience a significant COVID-19 surge, driven by the Omicron variant, beginning in January and continuing through February. This surge is likely to be much steeper than the Delta variant surge Oregon experienced.

OHA expects impacts on workforce stability in schools, hospitals and other sectors, with hospitals potentially being more severely impacted than they were in the fall.

Oregon’s education and health leaders say if schools continue to host extracurricular activities, “they should expect rapid transmission of COVID-19″ that could prevent students from being able to attend class in-person due to isolation and quarantine periods, OHA and ODE stated.

The two agencies said if schools choose to continue extracurriculars, they need to clearly communicate those potential risks to students and their families.

As a result of the advisory, a memo was released from Oregon Schools Athletic Association (OSAA) Executive Director Peter Weber, asking schools to do one of two things: pause extracurricular activities or ensure they follow the same layered mitigation safety protocols practiced during the school day (use of face coverings, screening and diagnostic testing, encourage vaccination, frequent handwashing, etc.).

“Activities play a critical role in the overall school experience for students and decisions regarding any action related to this school health advisory should be made at the local school level,” Weber continued. “Per the advisory, local school districts are able to make decisions that they believe work best for their schools and communities as it relates to potential changes to extracurricular activities and protocols.”

Besides the regular slate of winter sports, Siuslaw High School hosts the Sky-Em/Skyline Girls Basketball Crossover this weekend, bringing 11 schools from around the state to town for games on Friday and Saturday. SHS also has two home wrestling meets in January.

Siuslaw School District has decided to proceed with the second option and continue participating in interscholastic sports but with the upmost caution.

Siuslaw Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak issued the following statement that lays out the specifics of how the district plans to keep athletes and spectators safe:

 

“Extracurricular sports and activity events are held for the benefit of the students. During these events as a necessity of competition, these students are unmasked while on the court, the wrestling mat, or upon the concert stage.

“Unmasked spectators put those student-athletes and activity participants at an unnecessary risk. If sporting contests and activity events are going to continue with spectators in the stands, the health and safety of the student-athletes must come first. Game play will not start or continue until all spectators are in a proper face-covering:

  • Individual reminders will no longer be given by staff walking through the crowd.
  • A general announcement will be made over the public address system to address mask issues.
  • When all spectators are properly masked, contests will begin or resume play.

“For the safety of student-athletes, staff, and other spectators to enjoy the scheduled competition or performance, those that choose not to abide by the legal indoor mask mandate will be asked to leave the school grounds.”

He said there are other options to see games, competitions and events if people do not feel comfortable following these guidelines or attending games in person.

Grzeskowiak suggested watching sports events from the comfort of home on the NFHS Network feed and student activity events on the Siuslaw YouTube feed.

“While student-athletes will be encouraged to use their water bottles to stay hydrated during contests, all outside food, beverages and concessions cannot be consumed in the gymnasiums,” Grzeskowiak added. “Concessions will continue to be available, but all spectator food and beverages must be consumed outside of the gyms in a courtyard or other designated area.”

The Siuslaw sports year has been an exciting one for student/athletes and their families and fans. The disappointment would be high if teams were forced to take a hiatus, but the public’s health is the district’s top priority.

“We don’t want to pause,” said SHS Athletic Director Chris Johnson. “We are committed to providing as normal an athletic experience for our student athletes as possible. We want to play full seasons. We want to finish the winter season and have opportunities for post-season competition. We saw how exciting those could be in the fall. We want to allow spectators in the stands. If this is going to happen, we need the cooperation of our community. Please come support Siuslaw athletics, but if you are going to do so, please follow masking guidelines.” 

The Sailors girls and boys basketball teams are just beginning league play and the district has decided Mapleton athletes will continue playing games. However, like Siuslaw, Mapleton will also insist that athletes and fans in attendance use the utmost caution.

It appears Mapleton School District is well prepared for Omicron, as the school board has closely monitored enforcement of masking rules at Sailor sporting events all season. Th district has also been in contact with OSAA and OSHA regarding issues they’ve had with visiting school’s fans who have refused to follow the state mandates.

Superintendent Jodi O’Mara plans to continue that same strict enforcement.

“Games are still on,” said O’Mara. “No changes regarding sports.”

The advisory is in effect statewide Jan. 3 to Jan. 31.

For the full statement from OHA and ODE, go to content.govdelivery.com/accounts/ORED/bulletins/303bc02.

For more information on local school districts, visit siuslaw.k12.or.us and mapleton.k12.or.us.

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