COVID-19 positivity rate among school children outpacing the rest of the Austin community

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said the positivity rate among school-aged children is outpacing that of the entire community.

Austin Public Health said after testing 2,560 kids ages 3 through 18 last week, 19.8% of elementary-aged students came back positive, 20.2% of high schoolers came back positive and a record 27.1% of middle schoolers came back positive.

According to the City of Austin/Travis County dashboard, the current positivity rate for the entire area (all ages) is 17.8%.

“It’s going to be more and more difficult for us to control the outbreaks in schools,” Escott said. “If your child can learn virtually, if that is an option for your household, please choose it this week.”

Austin Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde sent a letter to families on Monday, encouraging them to learn remotely for the remainder of the week. She explained to the Board of Trustees Monday night she is giving principals at individual campuses the autonomy and flexibility to “strategically staff” their schools, rotating them in and out of the building to teach whichever in-person students remain.

It appears many families listened to the superintendent and those instructions from their campus administrators. The district reports 10,420 students converted to remote learning for the week; 9,202 of those students were in elementary school.

“We are working collaboratively with Austin Public Health in our response to Stage 5. The demand for face-to-face instruction still remains. Face-to-face instruction is still the most effective way to meet student needs,” a spokesperson for AISD said.

Erin Kitchen, a mother to three at AISD, said she made the decision to pull her second grader from in-person learning after considering the potential risk the Christmas holiday posed for families that attended social events over winter break. Witnessing Austin enter Stage 5 and then reading a letter from the Doss Elementary School administration pushed Kitchen into pulling her 8-year-old back home.

“I think certainly with the numbers where they are and the feedback that I’ve seen from the teachers and the concerns they have, that indicated to me that it makes sense,” Kitchen said. “We are kind of taking it one week at a time, but certainly watching the cases and spread in the community.”

Elizalde says she will continue to “strategically staff” campuses while Austin is in Stage 5. A spokesperson for the district said administrators are continuing to look for opportunities to keep teachers and staff home through an ongoing pilot program.

“Our highest attendance takes place at some of our Title I campuses, where our community and students have significant needs. We continue to be focused on serving our families while we recognize and want to support Austin Public Health as we work as a community to limit the spread and hospitalizations. Face to face opportunities still remain available at every campus.”

Austin Independent School District

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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