Bueller? … Bueller? … Omicron variant causes hundreds of absences


Maggie Troxell

On Friday Jan. 7 the 3rd period yearbook class has many empty seats. Half of the students in the class were absent. The news the first week back to school after winter break was dominated by the absences of staff and students created by the omicron variant.

By Abbi Elliott, Editor in Chief

     Classrooms of Tigard High seemed emptier than usual on Tuesday Jan. 4 due to a high absence rate, including 19 staff members.

     The Omicron variant has quickly made its way onto school grounds after returning from winter break. On Tuesday, The Paw reached out to Principal Brian Bailey to try to get an official number of students absent; however, the administration says it has not had time to reply due to being overwhelmed with the amount of contact tracing they’ve had to conduct in the recent days.

     Reports in the news suggest Omicron symptoms remain mild for those breakthrough cases of the individuals who have been fully vaccinated. However, those that are unvaccinated are experiencing the severe symptoms that were witnessed very early on in the pandemic. Omicron symptoms may include a cough, runny nose, congestion and fatigue.

     Due to the rapid spread of Omicron and the increased number of positive tests in the school community, administrators are now looking into potential mitigation measures and solutions. 

     In an email sent on Thursday, principal Brian Bailey refers to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that administration took guidance from, recommending suspending extracurricular activities. 

     The district has not taken this as their first step, however, it was decided to postpone the winter formal which had been previously scheduled for Jan. 15 

     “This week alone, over 60 Tigard High Students have tested positive for COVID-19,” Bailey wrote. “While the majority of these students have not been in attendance at all this week and have not posed a risk for spreading at school, it speaks to just how transmissible the new Omicron variant is and how easily it could spread should we host an event such as a school dance.”

     He adds that their decisions were not made lightly, clarifying that they believe these decisions would ultimately keep the community safe and healthy.

     “Based on current modeling from OHSU, we believe that the Omicron variant will have a very sharp but short spike and we will be able to replan this event in the very near future,” he shared. “We will continue to monitor our cases and communicate with our student leaders, and will message to our community a new date and time as soon as we can do so safely.”

     In the meantime he asks students, along with their parents and guardians, to help recognize the spread of COVID in the Tigard community and maintain the steps necessary to slow the spread. These steps are to get vaccinated, wear masks indoors at public places and wear masks outdoors where distancing is not possible, keep children who are sick at home, keep children home is they have been exposed to a person who is positive with COVID-19, keep children home from school if they are waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test, wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or by coughing into the inside of the elbow, and stay six feet away from people who do not live in your home. 

     Portland Public Schools (PPS) has also released new guidelines that will remain in effect until at least Feb. 4. These guidelines say “student athletes and performers must wear masks at all times during competition and practices, access to locker rooms will be limited, no overnight travel for athletic competitions or performances, concession stands will not be open at extracurricular activities or games, spectators age 5 and up must show proof of being fully vaccinated or offer documentation of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours, opportunities will be increased to receive COVID-19 tests and possible return to participation after five to seven days with negative tests.”

     Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith plans to meet with administrators today to discuss what the high schools sports and extracurriculars should look like according to a Pamplin Media article from Thursday.

     As of now the administration is committed to continuing as many activities as can safely be put on, while prioritizing instruction. And currently there is no open conversation about returning to online instruction, doing everything in their power to avoid it. 

     The lack of heightened vigilance or new school directives to mitigate risk has some students on edge. Some are even taking matters into their own hands. 

     For example, an Instagram account called “ths.no.maskers” has emerged. Running anonymously, the creator posts pictures of fellow students wearing their masks incorrectly. In order to protect the students’ identities, the creator blocks out their eyes. 

     In an anonymous interview, the creator shared their purpose and goals for the future of the account.

     “The purpose of the account is to show administration that students don’t really care about the mask mandate, and I haven’t really seen teachers enforcing it. So I made the account, not to embarrass people, but to show them that there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.”