Face Coverings Ready for Schools


Oregon Dept. of Education quickly distributes 5 million face coverings to schools and childcare providers around the state

SALEM – In response to mounting evidence that face coverings are effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, the July 22 update of the Ready Schools, Safe Learners Guidance for the 2020-21 School Year includes a new requirement for face coverings for all students in grades kindergarten and up and all staff.

To help school districts meet this new requirement in case of hybrid or fully on-site classes, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) is distributing five million face coverings to school districts, for use by students and staff. Having face coverings alone do not fully prepare a school to return to in-person instruction. The supply of face coverings complements schools’ ongoing efforts to keep students and staff safe and healthy and is one of many factors in any school’s individual plan to return to in-person instruction.

How ODE acquired the face coverings is a testament to the spirit of cooperation among federal, state, and local government agencies to help Oregon families during a pandemic.

It started when ODE and numerous other state agencies joined the Oregon Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) in mid-March via daily meetings to ensure services were reaching Oregonians during stay-at-home orders across the state. Staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) joined these meetings and offered help with federal services where it was needed in Oregon. In July FEMA representatives contacted the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) Procurement team to offer KN95 Face Masks to schools. FEMA had KN95 Face Masks they were making available to the first states to request them. Oregon made a request for five million and received the requested amount. (ODE defines these products as face coverings and not masks, as they are not considered medical-grade masks.)

Within days, a total of 15 semi-trucks started arriving in the state loaded with 16,000 face coverings per pallet and 21 pallets per 54 foot semi-trucks. They are stored at state and local storage facilities around the Salem-Keizer area. ODE plans to partner with Education Service Districts (ESDs) and Department of Corrections trucks and drivers to deliver masks for all schools. Local students, teachers and staff will benefit from a partnership that began with FEMA, needed multiple state agencies for storage and delivery and ultimately benefitting local public schools.  

“Over the last four months we’ve seen so many examples of cooperation between state, federal and local agencies that have helped Oregon families,” ODE Policy Analyst Terri Ward said. “I’m inspired by everyone’s attitude of ‘How can I help to make this happen?’”

“This is a team effort,” ODE Director Colt Gill said. “We’re thankful to FEMA, the ECC, DAS, the Salem-Keizer School District, and each of our 19 education service districts (ESDs) for their substantial support in acquiring, storing and distributing these face coverings. This effort will boost school districts’ efforts to keep their students and staff healthy and safe and help ensure that access to face coverings will not become a barrier to meeting the new requirement.” 

About Author

Peter Rudy is a Public Affairs Specialist at Oregon Department of Education

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