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OHA asks schools to plan for monkeypox

Jonathan Parducho, a pharmacist, removes vials of the Jynneos vaccine for monkeypox at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital in July. (Lea Suzuki/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

With the first pediatric case of monkeypox reported in Oregon Wednesday, public health officials want families to know the new disease presents “low risk” to schools, but nevertheless districts should start planning on responding during the new school year.

Oregon Health Authority did not provide any identifying information about the child who contracted the case, including age, gender or county of residence. The child got tested for a monkeypox infection Aug. 11, and the positive result was known Aug. 15. The virus was transmitted by a person who got sick in July, the health authority said.

The disease, which can bring about painful sores or rashes, is currently transmitted most commonly in men who have sex with other men. But since transmission can occur from skin-to-skin contact generally, state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger sought to explain during a news conference this week why school officials and families should care about monkeypox.

“We will have students, staff or teachers who are diagnosed with monkeypox,” he said. “We encourage them to stay home if they are sick or develop a new rash. Seek care for testing and treatment. This will help minimize potential exposures — even exposures that present low risks for transmission — in schools.”

Sidelinger asked schools to plan for supporting students and staff with monkeypox who isolate. But he stopped short of recommending “extra measures” for schools.

“This disease does not spread like COVID-19,” Sidelinger said.

He encouraged schools to publish materials to help de-stigmatize monkeypox in schools, where children go through a curriculum on disease prevention. Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill, who attended the news conference with Sidelinger, agreed. He added that all school districts have communicable diseases plans, which “go well beyond COVID-19.”

Jackson County school districts have not mentioned monkeypox in their messages to the community on what to expect for the coming school year. On Wednesday, a Medford School District spokesperson said officials there had not discussed monkeypox or prevention of it, but would look to local public health for guidance.