Austin Public Health: Getting kids back to school is the priority


Dr. Mark Escott

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin health officials are still targeting Sept. 8 as the day they allow in-person classes to resume in schools, and the interim health authority says that is a priority as the area’s COVID-19 response moves ahead.

Dr. Mark Escott said in order for all schools to reopen, and stay open, COVID-19 positivity rates need to be at 5% or lower for all ethnic communities. He doesn’t want some schools to reopen and others not based on the positivity rate being “higher for Hispanics,” he said as an example.

With the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations decreasing to 21, well within the Stage 3 standard, Dr. Escott still wants schools to reopen at 25% capacity, but acknowledges things are getting better.

“We are winning this battle, but we have to stay the course,” Dr. Escott said. “We have to ensure that we’re in a better place to open schools, and keep them open.”

Dr. Escott said he’s worried about people relaxing their efforts, however. He said the community has to continue to do its part and keep social distancing and wearing masks when they go out in public settings.

He also mentioned that if it fits with schedules, extracurricular activities can begin Sept. 7, the day before in-person classes could potentially start.

With Hurricane Laura barreling toward the Texas Gulf Coast, people forced to evacuate are heading to Austin for refuge. When asked if health officials were worried about evacuees coming to town and potentially spreading COVID-19, APH Director Stephanie Hayden said they’ve discussed and planned for that situation.

“There is a screening process, and we have an idea where to send people with COVID-19 symptoms and putting them in isolation facilities,” Hayden said.

Dr. Escott said he’s not as worried about the evacuees as he is people holding “backyard barbecues and sorority gatherings.”

A photo of a large group of women near the Hardin House in West Campus has been circulating social media, and University of Texas at Austin administration will “reach out” to advisors and the national offices of the groups the women are part of to remind them of current social distancing guidelines.

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