COVID-19 Latest: Austin Public Health Orders K-12 Schools To Delay In-Person Classes

Jul 14, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday, July 14. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Schools in Austin-Travis County ordered to delay reopening

Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, has ordered all public and private schools that teach pre-kindergarten through 12th grade not to open for in-person instruction until after Sept. 7. Virtual instruction can continue.

Extracurriculars, including sports, cannot take place until schools reopen.

The order is in response to the increasing rate of COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations in the Austin area.

“The big challenge is maintaining operations when people get sick, especially when faculty and staff get sick as we see every year with influenza,” Escott said in a press release. “Imagine that COVID-19 is twice as contagious as the flu. There would be a large impact on the continuity in individual schools primarily providing in-class education.” 

At least two weeks before reopening, schools or school districts will need to submit a plan to Austin Public Health, according to the order. The plan must also be made available to parents and the public.

Seven more COVID-19 deaths reported in Travis County

Austin Public Health reported 553 new cases of COVID-19 in Travis County on Tuesday, down from 657 reported on Monday. Seven more deaths were reported.

There are now 469 people hospitalized with the virus in the five-county region (Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell). That’s a net increase of 10 people since Monday.

There were 74 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the region on Tuesday, bringing the seven-day average of new admissions to 69.6, up slightly from 69.4. Local officials worry about people with the coronavirus overwhelming local hospitals, so they’re keeping an eye on that average and adjusting restrictions based on it.

A number above 70 could push the region in stage 5 of APH’s risk-based guidelines, but that move also depends on other factors, like how quickly the average number of new admissions is increasing, officials say.

Health official says Travis County schools should push back reopening dates

The top doctor at Austin Public Health recommends delaying the reopening of area schools to in-person instruction.

After discussions with school district superintendents across Travis County, Dr. Mark Escott told county commissioners on Tuesday that schools should not reopen until Sept. 8 at the earliest — three weeks later than Austin public schools are currently scheduled to reopen.

The Austin Independent School District made an annoucement a short time later that it would not be holding in-person classes for the first three weeks of the school year. 

Escott told commissioners even though COVID-19 death rates among children are relatively low, the number of school-age children in Travis County and the expected spread of the virus in schools still could mean some sobering numbers.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70% of students could be infected over the course of this disease, which in that .03% to 1.02% for Travis County would equate to between 40 and 1,370 deaths,” Escott said.

That’s just among students and not the teachers and school staffers in more vulnerable age groups, he said. He added that new case and hospitalization numbers appear to have started to plateau in the past week or so, but have not started to decline.  

Travis County prepares mobile morgues as a precaution

The county is in the process of buying three refrigerated trucks to serve as mobile morgues in case they are needed from a surge of COVID-19-related deaths. 

“Out of an abundance of precaution, we want to make certain that if this surge continues, we are prepared to adequately take care of any increased case numbers and deaths,” county spokesperson Hector Nieto said.

Two of the refrigerated trucks would be used as backups to private morgues, and one would serve the medical examiner’s office. So far, the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths in Travis County is 172.

Round Rock ISD is going online for the first three weeks of school

Round Rock Independent School District will hold the first three weeks of this upcoming school year virtually because of ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. District superintendent Steve Flores announced his decision at the Board of Trustees meeting Monday night.

That left board members with a lot of concerns. Trustee Amber Feller worried virtual learning, paired with the state's education requirements, will negatively impact students, especially those who need special education. "We're grading privilege. We're grading people that have the ability of a parent to stay home and help them and supervise them or have reliable internet service," Feller said.

Flores and Board President Amy Weir wrote a letter to state education Commissioner Mike Morath Monday requesting the suspension of STAAR testing and the A-to-F grading system for the coming school year.

In Leander, the school district sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency asking for only virtual classes until the seven-day daily average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Austin area drops to less than five.

Leander district officials asked the TEA to suspend in-person instruction, and remove STARR testing and the letter grading system for the 2020-2021 school year. The TEA recently decided schools had to offer on-campus learning in the fall.

Travis County has now had more than 15,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started

After 657 more cases were confirmed Monday, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in Travis County is now at 15,445.

Three more people have died in Austin-Travis County from COVID-19 related complications, for a total of 172 deaths. The city and county saw 68 new hospital admissions Monday. That drops the seven-day average of daily new hospitalizations just below the threshold of 70 to 69.4.

Public health officials are keeping an eye on that number, as a sustained daily average over 70 could send Austin-Travis County into the highest risk level and prompt further restrictions.

Williamson County reported 232 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, for a cumulative total of 4,042 cases since the pandemic started. That case count is up by 891 from a week ago. Two more people have died in Williamson County from COVID-19 related complications, for a total of 56 deaths.

Hays County had 88 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Monday for a cumulative total of  3,643 cases since March. The number of COVID-19-related deaths in Hays County remains at 11.

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What's happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public MediaTexas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.

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