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Oregon K-12 schools to close two weeks due to COVID-19 concerns

Starting Monday, March 16, all Oregon K-12 schools will be closed for two weeks as concerns over the coronavirus, or COVID-19, continue to mount.

The closure is a mandate from Gov. Kate Brown, which was released to the media late Thursday.

"I have heard from superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents and students that it has now become impossible to functionally operate schools due to workforce issues and student absences," Brown said in a news release. "Schools are experiencing critical shortages in staff, and superintendents are concerned for school personnel who are at elevated risk, such as those over age 60 and those with underlying medical issues."

During the closure, school districts have been directed to develop plans for when students and teachers return that accommodate ongoing impacts to coronavirus, the release said. School staff have also been asked to use the final two days of the closure to finalize plans for operating the schools under the new measures. Districts will also be tasked with developing plans to continue nutrition services during the closure, and are required to ensure "adequate cleaning supplies for increased cleaning protocols following the closure."

Just prior to the closure, Gov. Brown had said closing schools would be a "last resort."

The news comes on the heels of a slew of event closures announced by businesses, nonprofits and other organizations Thursday, all following Gov. Brown's mandate that large gatherings — gatherings that host more than 250 people — originally scheduled through April 8 be canceled. In Jackson County, cancellations extended to Craterian and Oregon Shakespeare Festival shows, a Jackson County Expo event, and winter high school sports tournament games. The Medford Kiwanis Easter Egg Hunt was also canceled, as was the Rotary of Ashland Lithia Springs crab feed fundraiser. ACCESS's Senior Fair was postponed until the end of April, the Southern Oregon Women's March until October, and the Oregon Cheese Festival until mid-June.

The Pear Blossom Festival, scheduled for April 11, may also see a cancellation if the large gathering mandate is extended.

“It’s really just wait and see,” Medford city councilor Kevin Stine said Thursday. “Nothing has to be done today.”

The Medford School District had announced the suspension of all non-essential school-based and after-school activities for four weeks. Southern Oregon University will remain open, but has implemented a series of cancellations to sports, arts and international programs.

Rogue Community College will also remain open, though it has instituted a ban on public gatherings or events that draw more than 75 people. The ban is effective through April 30. The community college will also cancel "college-associated gatherings and group activities that do not allow for individuals to maintain a distance of three feet or more from one another," an RCC news release reads. RCC also plans to shift to online learning "where feasible," and will limit all non-essential and out-of-state travel. It will also limit non-essential meetings of more than 20 people.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.