Local authorities should have more say in managing COVID challenges

We’ve been living with the coronavirus pandemic for about five months now in east Linn County and it’s been an experience.
Particularly in our schools.
Educators have been jerked this way and that by constantly changing directives from Salem as they’ve tried to figure out new ways to educate students on the fly.
Students have learned hard lessons about the unpredictability of life – and how “fun” Zoom can be.
Athletes and coaches have been bombarded with conflicting dictates from the Oregon School Activities Association, which itself is simply trying to respond positively to dictates from state political and health authorities.
And, in the midst of all of this, well, not a lot of people have gotten sick, thankfully.
As of mid-month, the Lebanon area had 78 reported cases, or 26.3 per 10,000 people, though the community has taken a bigger hit in fatalities than the rest of the county, due to the fact that the virus first struck at the Oregon Veterans Home, resulting in eight deaths.
Staying home, standing aloof and wearing masks works, apparently. Many of us haven’t even come down with a cold since last March.
The fact that the numbers haven’t been high has resulted in a lot of chatter, especially in social media, questioning the wisdom of forcing the shutdown of “non-essential” businesses, schools, churches, social events, dinners, club activities, concerts, graduations, white coat ceremonies, etc., etc. That’s caused folks to compare Oregon’s experience to other states where the restrictions have been less stringent.
Hindsight on this one may never be 20/20, because there are so many variables – the very ones that make it difficult now to gauge the wisdom of actions enforced by Gov. Brown and the Oregon Health Authority, the latter an agency which most people were probably only vaguely aware of, if at all, before this pandemic.
There has certainly been a lot of uncertainty, confusion and frustration. Obviously, a lot of what’s happened has stemmed from fear. None of us wants to get this bug, which was portrayed in early news reports as a ravaging, contagious, fiendish sickness. And it certainly has been, for some victims. But again, the numbers have not high, at least locally, while the economic and social devastation has mounted.
There has to be a point where our state’s leaders cede more of a role in battling this threat to local authorities.
We certainly appreciate the concern shown by the Linn County Board of Commissioners, who earlier this month declared a state of emergency and committed $1 million in federal aid funds to finding ways to bolster activities and socialization opportunities for children (page 5).
It’s a difficult situation, certainly.
While school administrators, such as Lebanon Supt. Bo Yates, are justifiably concerned about maintaining the health of teachers and staff members, the state’s modus operandi of simply shutting down brick-and-mortar classroom experiences to students fourth grade and up, presents a lot of difficulties, especially for kids who do not have qualified and engaged parents to help them get the job done.
The latest state rules, outlined in our report on page 1, do reflect an recognization that younger children are less impacted, as a whole, by COVID-19, which is why they’re being allowed – if things don’t change – back into the classrooms. The most recent U.S. Center for Disease Control numbers for the period of Feb. 1 through Aug. 8 indicate that, for children 0-4 years of age, there were a total of 26 deaths in the United States. For those 4 through 18, the number was 56 nationwide.
Of course, as we age we become more susceptible to COVID, hence the concern for the welfare of older people on school campuses. For the age range of 19-44, which would include younger teachers, there were 4,268 victims, nationally, recorded by CDC. For 45-65, the older staff and faculty members, the national death toll climbs to 26,269 – definitely more serious.
But it would seem to make sense to put kids in classrooms with teachers or instructional assistants who are in lower risk categories, who are being protected – along with the students. Why couldn’t teachers who feel they are at risk interact via video from outside the classroom with students who are in class with instructional assistants to handle class discipline and learning assistance needs?
Students would get quality instruction and help that parents are often not equipped to provide, and children would be in scheduled situations that are healthier than sleeping in and lounging on the couch.
None of this is going to be perfect, because life isn’t perfect, but if the state could find ways to provide more flexiblity to local authorities, it certainly seems possible to find creative ways to fulfill the ultimate goal here: keeping kids (and the rest of us) healthy.