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Austin High School Closes After COVID-19 Outbreak And Offers Testing To Students And Staff

Cars line up at Austin High School for COVID-19 testing.
Claire McInerny
Cars line up for COVID-19 testing at Austin High School, which was closed Monday because of an outbreak of cases.

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Austin High School closed Monday because of rising COVID-19 cases, becoming the first school in the Austin Independent School District to shut down this semester because of the virus.

The school had a large number of cases pop up in a short period of time, prompting the district to close it, AISD's Director of Health Services Alexandra Copeland said during a news conference Monday.

"Right now, we have had multiple cases on the campus, but they are isolated so it’s been a controlled outbreak, not an uncontrolled outbreak,” Copeland said. “But we just wanted to just add some security for this community and just be proactive for them."

AISD invited students and staff who have been in the building for in-person classes or extracurricular activities to get tested. Copeland said she and Austin Public Health will review the test results over the next few days to decide if the school needs to stay closed longer.

Students are learning remotely through Wednesday, and the current plan is to bring them back to campus Thursday unless the testing data indicates the district should do otherwise.

Austin Public Health had said AISD could keep the school open, but the district moved forward with closing it for a few days out of caution, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said during Monday night’s school board meeting. She said the district has learned through contact tracing efforts that many students have been hanging out together outside of school.

The district tested more than 250 people via a drive-thru set up at Austin High on Monday, and four tested positive. Elizalde said she’s leaning toward allowing students and staff to return to campus on Thursday. Students and staff at Austin High can still get tested Tuesday and Wednesday, and those results could impact that decision.

Copeland said there is not a specific number of COVID-19 cases that prompts a school to close.

“Everything is done on a case-by-case basis,” Copeland said. “So, we want to look at transmission and whether it’s happening on or off the campus. We want to look at how controlled the outbreak is, and I also consult with Austin Public Health and Dr. Mark Escott whenever we have cases.”

Copeland encouraged AISD families to be safe and avoid gathering in large groups as Thanksgiving approaches, so COVID-19 stays out of schools.

This story has been updated.

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Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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