Under the test-to-stay model, if a child comes into close contact with COVID-19 in a school setting with masks on, they would immediately be offered a test, paid for by the state. If the test is negative, they would stay in school and take a second test after seven days. If that test is negative, they would continue in-person classes.
"Will greatly reduce the number of students who miss school due to quarantines," said Oregon Department of Education director Colt Gill.
Most Oregon school districts are already part of the state's diagnostic COVID testing program, and this new protocol would expand on that.
The test-to-stay model depends on several factors, including the testing kit supply chain.
"We have heard from our federal partners and from manufactures that the supply will remain stable and adequate," Gill explained. "However...a nationwide COVID-19 surge could impact the supply."
Currently, about 30 states are experiencing a rise in COVID cases. Oregon has the fourth lowest number of cases in the country, but Oregon Health Authority is treading carefully.
"We're worried that [surge] could happen in Oregon," said Dr. Dean Sidelinger with OHA.
The test-to-stay protocol is rolling out as the state lifts its outdoor mask mandate in crowded areas.
Now, individual school districts must determine rules for outdoor mask use.
A challenge for some schools to test students now lies in how understaffed they are during the pandemic.
"It has left educators exhausted to a point we have not seen before," said Reed Scott-Schwalbach, president of the Oregon Education Association. Scott-Schwalbach testified before state lawmakers last week.
"We really do think [the test-to-stay protocol] will be a turnaround for our students and families and educators," Gill said.
Gill acknowledged staffing challenges and increased responsibilities for educators as the state implements this new program.
He urged parents to help by volunteering time at schools and vaccinating their children over the age of five.
"If we see very high rates of student vaccination in the future, at some point we may no longer need this protocol," Gill said.