Austin Public Health to recommend schools open at 25% in-person capacity, at first

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As fall quickly approaches, Austin’s top doctor says an Austin Public Health team is working on developing recommendations for schools planning to reopen.

On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Escott presented an alarming new trend to Travis County commissioners. APH data shows a rising number of COVID-19 cases in young people ages 10 to 19 over the past couple of weeks. Escott says that age group now accounts for more than 10% of positive cases in the area.

“It’s likely to be happening, because the school-aged children are interacting over the summer,” Escott told commissioners.

He says APH is watching those cases closely, working against the clock to learn more about how children transmit the disease before schools open.

“There are kids, young kids, who are being hospitalized,” Escott said. We’re seeing cases of school-aged children having died in other parts of the country. Again, luckily, those percentages are very small. We expect that they’re going to stay small, but they are not going to be zero.”

That’s why Escott says APH plans to recommend that schools operate at no more than 25% capacity for in-person learning, at least at first.

He says a special team within the health department will issue recommendations, soon. They will likely also include a plan for the reopening of schools in phases, with more students coming back as the virus risk decreases community-wide.

“It’s essential that when schools open, they open with a small number of students to help revise and refine the processes that the schools are going to undertake for this,” Escott said.

According to Escott, Austin Public Health is currently in the process of asking the state for help with testing capacity for schools, similar to the help the state has provided for nursing homes.

In the same briefing, Escott told county commissioners he did not feel UT’s plan for football games with a half-full stadium would be feasible in the fall.

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