Hays County student tests positive for U.K. COVID-19 variant, campus reverts to virtual learning

Coronavirus

HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Dahlstrom Middle School in Buda is now shut down for two weeks after an asymptomatic student tested positive for the more contagious variant of COVID-19 originally discovered in the United Kingdom.

Hays Consolidated Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright chose to place the school on 100% virtual instruction for the next 14 days. An early dismissal also took place on Wednesday, according to a press release from the district.

“This will allow us time to conduct our contact tracing, to thoroughly sanitize and disinfect the campus, and to allow the virus incubation period to pass,” Wright said in the press release.

“I would say anytime you get an email saying drop everything and come get your kid — that’s a scramble,” said Rachel Ham who’s son attends Dahlstrom.

Ham said a friend texted her to check her email. That’s when she found the notification from campus and district officials.

“I heard sirens. I don’t work that far from there, so we could tell there was a lot going on,” she said.

Ham was able to ask friends to pick up her son from school for early dismissal.

The district said it was notified by the Hays County Local Health Department about the case, and the county was notified by the state.

“It’s the first instance that we know of that we’ve had the U.K. variant, and that’s much more contagious,” said school district spokesperson Tim Savoy.

Rachel Ham and her son pose for a picture before breaking away to go back to social distancing. Ham said they are spacing out and wearing masks at home in case her son was exposed to the virus variant at Dahlstrom. (Photo: Rachel Ham)

That’s one of the reasons he said they decided to shut down a whole campus for the first time. He also told KXAN more students may have been exposed in this case than in the past.

“You can tell right away depending on what programs or activities that they’re in how many kids they may have been in contact with or how many staff members,” Savoy said.

He said in this case based on preliminary contact tracing “it’s looking like there’s going to be a lot of people they’re going to have to call and trace.”

Savoy said human resources employees, campus nurses, assistant principals and even contracted nurses are all helping with contact tracing. He said staff will be notifying parents over the next few days and suggests concerned parents get their families tested in the meantime.

Ham hasn’t gotten a call from a contact tracer, yet.

“I have a medically fragile child that I would rather not have this introduced,” she said.

She’s being careful at home with her middle schooler.

“We’re kind of isolating him, and we’re wearing masks when we’re together just, you know, out of precaution,” Ham said.

But she’s still staying optimistic.

“We’re trying really hard just to breathe and not bring the worry to us when there may be nothing to worry about,” she said.

The director of the Hays County Local Health Department, Tammy Crumley, said contact tracing for the new variant case is now underway.

About the U.K. variant spread in Texas

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the B.1.1.7 variant “spreads more easily and quickly than other variants.” Experts in the U.K. are also studying whether this variant may be more deadly.

The Texas Department of State Health Services tells KXAN the case at Dahlstrom was one of 16 new U.K. variant cases found in Texas over the weekend.

It has also been reported in Travis County as well as within the University of Texas at Austin community.

DSHS said that brings the total to 35 people infected with the U.K. variant, ranging from 11 to 91 years old. The agency says so far, none have died or required hospitalization.

Five had traveled recently: four to Colorado and one from the U.K.

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