AUSTIN, Texas — Austin's top doctor said it'll soon be a struggle for schools, and other institutions, to control COVID-19 outbreaks as cases continue to rise in education systems. Austin Public Health's Dr. Mark Escott said things are different now than they were in the fall.
"Some of our superintendents reporting that some individual schools are at between 70 and 90% of occupancy. This is a recipe for disaster. It's a recipe for outbreaks in our schools," said Escott. "And in addition to the impact on our children's health, on our teachers and school staff, so is the continuity of education. We are going to quickly see that we are going to run out of teachers in order to provide in-person education."
In Travis County schools, Austin Public Health reports a 20.2% positivity rate at high schools; the middle school positivity rate is 27.1%; elementary school positivity rate is 19.8%; and the preschool rate is 10%.
"All of our school-aged groups are outpacing the community positivity rates," said Austin's top doctor, Dr. Mark Escott, on Tuesday.
Some teachers are nervous about rising COVID-19 cases at schools. KVUE spoke with an Austin ISD middle school teacher and basketball coach who wanted to keep his name private. He said he assumed sports would be postponed with these new alarming coronavirus case numbers.
"I have my first game this week," the AISD teacher said. "It's not, 'if I get COVID-19,' it's, 'when I get COVID-19' because my job is putting me in a situation that I think is unnecessarily reckless, but I do love my job and I'm going to continue to do it."
Escott said the positivity rate now for COVID-19 in school is four times higher than what it was in the fall.
"I'm concerned about the number of positive cases, the positivity rates in our young people," said Escott. "We have a new variant, which is almost certainly impacting the spread of disease here, and we have increased in-person activity in our schools."
The AISD teacher KVUE spoke with said he's not surprised the cases are spiking in Austin-Travis-County, especially in schools.
"It's hard for kids to social distance, especially after three months, nine months, 10 months of this. It's hard to keep social distancing," said the AISD teacher. "I was actually delighted to see some numbers focusing on school populations because the narrative, since March 13, is that the kids are alright. There's not transmission in schools."
Since AISD started encouraging students to switch to virtual learning, 449 high school students switched to online classrooms, an estimated 769 middle school students switched to remote learning, and an estimated 9,202 elementary students switched, too.
"Please note these figures are estimates based on campus-based data collection and assume 100% attendance. Actual attendance data is not immediately available due to regular data reconciliation processes," said AISD in a statement.
Dr. Escott and Austin ISD continue to urge parents to keep kids home, if possible.
On Monday, Austin ISD and other education organizations sent a letter the State asking for more local control.
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