Answers to Klamath County School District's town halls

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Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, town hall at Henley Schools

Question: Superintendent Szymoniak, in his letter to the Governor accompanying the District’s recent resolution related to COVID-19 guidance, indicated that if the Governor approves, the District would “take direction from Klamath County Public Health” for all COVID-19 guidance.  By what legal authority can the District accede its authority to determine school policy in any matter to a non-elected and non-accountable bureaucracy?  KCSD Board Policy BBA begins by declaring that “[t] he legislature of the state of Oregon delegates to the Board responsibility for the conduct and governance of schools.”  Why isn’t the Board willing to take responsibility for making COVID-19 rules for the District?

Answer: Communicable Disease management in schools has always been a coordinated effort between the local public health authority and the school district. Recommendations for disease mitigation strategies and best practices are a routine component of the support that Klamath County Public Health has historically offered, and will continue to offer to Klamath County School District. In addition, coordination of certain activities related to communicable disease management is required under Oregon Administrative Rule (OAR 333-050-0050). Ultimately development and implementation of district policy is completed at the school district level, with incorporation of recommendations from public health .

Question: Is there a epidemiologist on staff or in a consulting role for the Klamath County Public Health Department?  If so, who is he or she and what is his or her expertise in evaluating proper protocol for school rules related to pandemics?

Answer: Klamath County Public Health does not have its own epidemiologist but does has access to a shared epidemiologist for Region 7 (Klamath, Lake, Harney, Deschutes, Crook, Jefferson, Wheeler and Grant counties). Additionally, state support for assessment and epidemiology is in place for local public health departments and specific teams of epidemiologists are assigned to support each local public health authorities. Throughout the pandemic KCPH has worked with those epidemiological teams for guidance and consultation. 

Question: Can the Klamath County Public Health Department legally provide direction or guidance that isn’t consistent with the Oregon Health Department?  If so, when was the last time this occurred, and for what reason?  If not, then the request to the Governor and the Board’s recent resolution will have no effect.

Answer: Klamath County Public Health cannot make recommendations that violate Oregon law or rule. However, there are times that local recommendation may not match statewide recommendation. An example of the last time this occurred was the recommendation to resume in person education in Klamath County following Christmas break while the state recommended a return to in distance education. KCPH  staff attended a joint school board meeting to advocate for the return to in person education and provided a variety of considerations that led to this recommendation. KCPH will continue to make recommendations with wholistic consideration of all impacts to health including social and emotional health. 

Question: Has the Klamath County Public Health Department analyzed all data, positive and negative, on mandated mask protocols for schools and children?  If so, (1) who in the Department conducted these analyses, and what are his, her, or their expertise in this area; and (2) what were the conclusions from these analyses?  Have the results of the analyses been made public?  If not, why not?  Again, if the Department has not conducted independent analyses of all relevant studies and is not intending to, it will be left with simply parroting the Oregon Health Department’s opinions.  If this is the case, then once again, the recent request to the Governor and the Board’s recent resolution will have no effect.

Answer: No, Klamath County Public Health has not conducted independent data analysis concerning masks. We do however stay current on data analysis as it related to all mitigation strategies both nationwide and throughout the world. The most recent recommendations related to school masking were based on CDC data analysis as well as the abc science collaborative study conducted in North Carolina. Masks are currently required in all K-12 school settings under Oregon Administrative Rule 333-019-1015, and as such our recommendation will follow state law. However, if given the opportunity to apply a local approach, mitigation strategies would prioritize use of distancing and sanitation, and include opportunities to limit the necessity for masks. Though masks would remain a viable mitigation strategy in the absence of ability to distance. 

Question: Has the Klamath County Public Health Department or the District conducted any studies of school mask use in Klamath County?  If not, why not, and how can the either propose local solutions if they don’t use local data?

Answer: See previous answer. 

Question: Has the Klamath County Public Health Department provided the District with its methodology for determining the best COVID-19 management practice in schools?  If not, why not?  If so, does the methodology include how it will address all aspects of students health including long-term effects of mask wearing on: (1) skin conditions; (2) increase in carbon dioxide levels in the blood; (3) mouth deformities; and (4) elevated pathogens.  In addition, does the methodology address: the psychological and educational issues with long-term mask usage?  Who will be addressing these issues at the Department, and what expertise does he, she, or they have? 

Answer: Klamath County Public Health disease mitigation recommendations are aimed at one specific goal, to limit communicable disease spread within a school setting. Local public health does not have the expertise to offer input on long term effects of mask wearing. 

Question: How will the Department of Public Health provide direction to the District in determining COVID measures?  Will this process be done in a public forum with opportunities for the public to address the decisions made by the Department?

Answer: KCPH provides daily consultation to the district. This is done in a variety of ways. Direct coordination with school nursing staff for quarantine and isolation, weekly meetings with the district to update on local situation, communication of any state mandates or rule changes and as needed attendance at public events such as school board meetings and public forums. Opportunities for public input will continue to be made available by the district. 

Question: How many children of school age in Klamath County have died directly of COVID-19 since COVID pandemic restrictions were put in place?  How many children of school age in Klamath County have been hospitalized with COVID unrelated to other chronic or serious issues?  How does the COVID school-age mortality rate compare to other causes of death?  Has the youth suicide rate gone up or down in Klamath County in the last eighteen months?  How about statewide, and how about in comparison to states that didn’t impose stringent COVID requirements?

Answer: A weekly epidemiology report is available on the Klamath County website at http://publichealth.klamathcounty.org/1076/Klamath-County-data. The most recent report, published August 25, shows there has been a total of 786 lab cases in those under age 19. In addition, that same report provides the age ranges for individuals who have died with COVID-19, the youngest of whom have been in the 40-49 age range. 

Data available on suicide rates (including attempted suicide emergency department visits) have not demonstrated an increase in the last 18 either locally or statewide. 

While nationwide comparison of data will be available in the future, at this time such comparisons are not available.