COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are frequently asked questions of how Oregon Youth Authority is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

General questions

Where is OYA getting its information on coronavirus (COVID-19)?

OYA is working with the Governor’s Office and the Oregon Health Authority to monitor the COVID-19 virus and its potential impacts to our agency. These decisions are dictated by information provided through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We are also represented on Gov. Brown’s Coronavirus Response Team, so we can coordinate our efforts with other state agencies.

Does OYA have a plan to handle a COVID-19 outbreak?

OYA has a plan that describes how operations should continue during any type of pandemic. Because diseases vary in how they are transmitted or addressed, we make adjustments to our general pandemic plan whenever an outbreak of a specific disease occurs. We are currently updating our general plan to address operations during the COVID-19 pandemic specifically.

How many OYA youth are in close-custody facilities, and do you know roughly how many people are employed at those facilities?

OYA has around 500 youth in close-custody facilities (and nearly 700 youth in the community). About two-thirds of OYA’s nearly 1,000 staff members work in close-custody facilities.

Who is currently allowed inside facilities?

Essential staff and contracted staff.


Visiting

Is visiting still allowed?

We stopped allowing visitors and volunteers in our close-custody facilities starting March 14. Residential programs are also closed to visitors, and home visits are not allowed.

If families are not allowed to visit, how do I keep in touch with my youth?

We understand that not having in-person contact with your youth is difficult, and we know it’s an important part of their reformation.

  • Youth in residential programs or foster homes: We are encouraging residential programs to allow youth more phone calls and video visits when possible. Contact their juvenile probation/parole officer to connect via Skype.
  • Youth in facilities: We encourage family members to talk to your youth’s case coordinator about setting up a phone call or a video call with your youth using Skype.

Are home visits and respite care affected by COVID-19?

OYA has suspended home visits for youth who are at community residential programs. Additionally, OYA foster homes and contracted proctor care homes may not do respite care at this time. (Respite care is when youth in foster or proctor care temporarily go to a different home in order to give their regular care providers a break.)

Both decisions were made in response to the governor’s executive order directing everyone to minimize travel, as a way to help contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

These were tough decisions for us, because we know how important family visits are for youths’ well-being and rehabilitation. We also know how important respite care can be for foster and proctor families.

We are encouraging residential programs to allow youth more phone calls and video visits when possible, and our staff are continuing to support foster and proctor families through this time.

How long will visitation be suspended?

As with other activities that have been suspended due to the pandemic, we don’t know yet when we will be able to restore visitation. We will be looking to the Oregon Health Authority for guidance on when it will be safe to do so. We know that visitation is critically important to the well-being of the youth and we will let families and volunteers know when we have a timeline.


Health and Safety

How are you keeping OYA facilities clean?

  • All living areas in facilities are cleaned many times a day, following CDC recommendations. This includes disinfecting living units, bathrooms, eating areas, doors, countertops, etc.
  • When one group is in a common area, or when they use common recreation equipment, they clean and sanitize before another group comes in.
  • We have placed posters in all OYA facilities encouraging youth to wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, to cough and sneeze into their elbow or a tissue, and to avoid touching their face. These are the most effective methods to prevent the spread of illness.
  • Here’s a more complete listing of what OYA is doing to keep youth in our facilities safe.

How are OYA staff and youth in custody practicing physical distancing?

At OYA’s close-custody facilities:

  • All facilities are closed to visitors, volunteers, and non-essential employees.
  • As much as possible, youth are only interacting with other youth from their living unit.
  • We temporarily closed schools, vocational activities, and many volunteer-led enrichment activities. We are seeking ways to re-establish some of these activities remotely.
  • We have limited remaining group activities to fewer than 10 people at a time from the same living unit.
  • We have restricted the number of youth in certain common areas.
  • Youth in dorms are sleeping head to toe, to increase distance.
  • We redistributed youth to get to 20 or fewer youth per living unit.
  • Here’s a more complete listing of what OYA is doing to keep youth in our facilities safe.

OYA Central Office in Salem and statewide field offices have been closed to the public since March 24. Juvenile parole/probation officers are only meeting youth through video or phone calls. Employees are working from home to the greatest extent possible. In-person meetings with the public are by appointment only.

Do all youth in custody and staff have face masks?

The CDC recommends that only patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and the staff working with them, should wear a medical-grade face mask. However, we ordered and distributed face coverings for all staff and youth. In addition, many community members have donated home-made face coverings to our facilities for staff and youth.

These face coverings only help prevent people from spreading the virus to others. They do not take the place of regular handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, and maintaining physical distance from others. So we are still encouraging youth and staff to practice those measures.

Does OYA provide hand sanitizer to youth?

OYA is not providing alcohol-based sanitizer to youth in our facilities because of safety and contraband issues related to the alcohol. However, the CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water as the best way to eliminate germs. Because of this, we are encouraging all youth to wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.

If an OYA youth does contract the virus, what are your procedures?

In our close-custody facilities, OYA is following the CDC/OHA guidance on physical distancing, masking, and medically isolating patients with COVID-19 while they receive medical care within the facilities. Patients who are too sick to remain in a facility may be sent to a local hospital for further treatment. For any youth who test positive or are waiting for a test result, we are also placing their living unit under quarantine for as long as health officials tell us to.

For youth in community residential programs or OYA foster homes, we will work with their care providers to ensure the same precautions are followed as in our secure facilities.

How does OYA determine who will be tested? Will testing be provided for youth in custody who request it or show symptoms?

We get youth tested for COVID-19 when a health care provider recommends it based on the youth showing symptoms of COVID-19. OYA uses CDC/OHA guidance on appropriate criteria for testing. Those being tested and/or awaiting results will be medically isolated.

Does OYA have coronavirus tests?

OYA has a limited number of COVID-19 tests available to use for youth in custody.

How many OYA staff have been tested?

It is not possible to know how many staff have been tested for COVID-19. Because it is protected health information, staff are not required to share with us whether they have been tested or the results they received. That said, we are encouraging OYA employees to share test results with us so we can assist them with pay and protected leave time while they are recovering. We also want to make sure to notify and take appropriate protective actions for other staff or youth who may have had contact with the staff member being tested.

At our close-custody facilities, all staff must self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter. They also must take their temperature, and if they have a fever, they may not go in.

​What are you doing for the medically vulnerable youth in custody?

We sought guidance from the Oregon Health Authority to determine best practices to ensure the safety of these youth during the pandemic. As it turned out, we had already implemented the measures they recommended, including:

  • Suspending facility access for outside visitors, volunteers, and non-essential staff
  • Screening staff at entry
  • Placing youth who have been exposed to someone with COVID symptoms in quarantine and youth with COVID symptoms in medical isolation.

In addition, we are taking these precautions:

  • All of these youth have been offered a surgical mask in addition to the face coverings being offered to all OYA youth in custody.
  • Where possible, they have been offered a separate sleeping room.
  • If it’s necessary to place them in quarantine, they will be offered a respirator mask instead of a surgical mask.

We are also reviewing a list of youth who are either immuno-compromised or who have other underlying medical conditions that put them at a higher risk of complications if they were to contract the COVID-19 virus. We have evaluated whether some of these youth could be paroled.


Transport and Release

Is my youth eligible for early release?

OYA has worked to redistribute youth to get to 20 youth or fewer per living unit, to maximize opportunities for physical distancing. In order to accomplish making this, OYA has reviewed about 10-20 youth adjudicated as juveniles for possible parole. These youth are in addition to the youth normally up for parole review at this time. (OYA does not have the authority to parole youth sentenced as adults.) We have also reviewed a list of youth who are medically vulnerable to see if any of them could be paroled.

Will releases or transitions to the community be impacted?

It’s possible youth movement to residential programs could be delayed due to the programs being full or slower to respond amid other challenges they face during the pandemic.

Nothing has changed regarding Department of Corrections youth housed at OYA, who have a scheduled release date. Currently, no DOC youth housed at OYA are scheduled to go to a DOC facility until September.

Has OYA’s intake process been affected?

Essential transfers, such as bringing youth to intake, are occurring as usual.

We created a new process at MacLaren to hold all new intakes and youth entering for parole violations in a separate living unit for a 14-day period. The 14-day hold is to make sure they don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19 before we transfer them to their longer-term living unit or to another facility.

We do not have the same option for incoming female youth at our Oak Creek facility because of space and staffing limitations. However, all incoming youth there receive a health screening before leaving juvenile detention and another when they arrive at Oak Creek. Those who develop symptoms or who have been in contact with a COVID-19 patient will be placed in quarantine or medical isolation, if needed.

Can youth attend treatment programming and, if not, will that affect their progress?

Youth can still take part in any treatment that follows the rules around not mixing living units and physical distancing.

Have temporary transports out of the facility (e.g. for a routine dental checkup) been canceled?

With the governor’s order to begin allowing non-essential medical procedures May 1, we are starting to make plans for health-related appointments that have been delayed by the pandemic.


Events and Programs

With many programs and events canceled, what will the youth be doing all day?

Not all internal facility programs are canceled. Youth can still take part in activities, as long as there are fewer than 10 participants and everyone stays at least six feet apart. Some youth who have jobs can still go to work, as long as they’re not working alongside youth from other living units.

Treatment groups are still happening on the living units. Other programs that have been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will not have an effect on a youth’s progress.

How are youth keeping up with their education?

The distance learning that public schools have been directed to follow for the rest of the school year doesn’t work for schools in our facilities. We are working with the governor’s office, Oregon Department of Education leadership, and public health officials to find ways to provide learning for our youth. While we have not received information on this yet, it will likely mean the return of teachers to the facilities. This would have to be done only with many precautions in place, such as maintaining six feet of separation, breaking classes into smaller groups, and providing exceptions for teachers who are medically vulnerable. Until then, our facilities have already been working on ways to bring school back to youth.

At our community residential programs, staff have been helping youth adjust to remote learning. The staff at these programs are working closely with local school districts and ODE to ensure they meet the youths’ educational needs.

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