AUSTIN (KXAN) — With only two weeks left before the first day of school for many students, Austin Public Health is warning there are high COVID-19 positivity rates among school-aged children.
According to APH, more than 16% of elementary and middle school students tested for COVID-19 have tested positive. In high school, it’s nearly 28%.
Some Central Texas school districts have already begun fall athletics practices and other curriculars, and are doing their best to ensure that health and safety protocols are being followed as closely as possible to minimize the risk of transmitting the coronavirus among students, coaches and other staff.
“Our number one goal is to provide our athletes an opportunity to participate and to do that as safely as we possibly can,” said Leal Anderson, the Austin ISD athletic director. “Health and safety for all of our students, staff, coaches and everyone is first and foremost.”
Anderson said the athletic department held meetings on Tuesday morning to further strengthen the COVID-19 protocols. Anderson said many of the health guidelines that were implemented last fall are still in effect like frequent disinfecting and social distancing.
Teams are being asked to work in small groups to minimize contact and masking is strongly encouraged. It cannot be mandated due to an existing statewide executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott.
While there is a basic framework for health and safety, Anderson said many of the details are still being developed and ironed out. More specific and concrete guidelines will be released within the next few days, Anderson said.
For some parents, the threat of COVID-19 doesn’t outweigh the benefits their students receive from participating in extracurriculars. Amy Poteet said she worries for her ninth grade daughter’s safety, but believes that most school districts have their safety standards firmly established. It’s the reason why she felt comfortable sending her daughter to band practice beginning last week.
“We worry about our kids. More than just the COVID situation, we worry about our kid in any situation that might bring harm to them,” Poteet said. “But I feel like the schools are doing a good job of doing what they can within the realm of possibility to keep our kids safe.”
Poteet, like Anderson, said it’s up to the kids to ensure they are keeping themselves and their peers as safe as possible. The district is offering proactive testing to any student on any campus who wants it, whether they feel symptoms or not.
Anderson said that if athletes want to continue suiting up for the entirety of the season, then they have to be responsible and “do their part.”
“Do your part. Do your part to keep your self safe and family safe. And if everyone does their part, then we can collectively have a better environment,” Anderson said.
Austin ISD said there will likely be capacity limits for spectators at fall sports this year. That information will be forthcoming.