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GCHD ISSUES GUIDELINES FOR OPENING OF SCHOOLS

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Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County Local Health Authority

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas – The current COVID-19 pandemic has provided challenges for education. Congregant settings such as schools and athletic events can facilitate transmission of the virus. However, school provides benefits for children that are not achievable through virtual forums. Brick and mortar schools provide a better learning and socialization environment. Some students rely on school lunch as
their primary meal for the day. Schools also provide psychological support and are often the first and sole place at which abuse and neglect may be recognized. Thus, opening schools is an important endeavor that
will require a balancing of the risks posed by COVID-19 against the benefits derived from in-person education.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) requires that school districts provide face-to-face learning for students whose parents implore their child receives this form of education. Public schools may delay opening for up to eight weeks with consent of local school boards. Failure to open in accordance with these guidelines could result in loss of funding. Private and
religious schools are exempt from these guidelines. Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion that Local Health Authorities cannot order schools closed to prevent COVID-19 but can order limited quarantine in response to an outbreak at a specific school. At the time of this writing, Galveston County has seen over 8,000 cases, with 78 hospitalizations and
73 deaths. The percentage of positive cases for the last two and a half weeks has stabilized at 9 percent. This means that about 1 in 10 Galveston County residents are infected with COVID-19 and are transmitting the virus. There is no optimal threshold for number or percentage of cases for opening schools. Given our current rates of transmission, it is inevitable that there will be cases of COVID-19 within schools. Athletic programs are an integral part of the school experience but represent an un-assessable risk of
spreading COVID-19 into classrooms. Students infected in a sports practice or event can then bring infections back to their classrooms, amplifying the
exposure to others in the school. Note that even professional leagues such as Major League Baseball have not successfully navigated reopening their seasons and have had to cancel games and quarantine teams.
Based on the current prevalence of COVID-19 in Galveston County, Galveston County Local Health Authority Dr. Philip Keiser is making the following recommendations for the opening of schools. All school districts should follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and TEA guidelines for reopening of schools (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schoolschildcare/index.html, https://tea.texas.gov/
about-tea/news-and-multimedia/news-releases/
news-2020/tea-issues-comprehensive-guidelinesfor-a-safe-return-to-on-campus-instruction-for-the2020-21-school-year). While there are minor differences between these guidelines, they are consistent
with regard to the principles of COVID-19 mitigation.
Specifically, all schools should follow guidelines in
the following areas:
a. Social distancing within classrooms
b. Cohorting students
c. Maintaining small class size
d. Universal masking
e. Excluding sick children and staff
from school
f. Consistent cleaning of rooms and
surfaces
g. Following guidelines for food service and cafeterias
h. Bus transportation
i. Limiting visitors in school
Because of the high percentage of
cases and the continued number of
people infected with COVID-19 in the
area, Keiser also recommends the
following:
School districts should delay opening brick and mortar schools for as
long as practical under TEA guidelines. This will allow for the potential
decrease in case rate and decrease
risk to students.
For systems that are staggering re-opening, allow
for at least 10 days between each wave of students to
allow for incubation of COVID-19.
Districts should strongly consider delaying sports
programs.
Districts should develop a detailed plan regarding
response to COVID-19 cases in schools.
COVID-19 remains a reportable disease and
schools must do the following:
a. Notify GCHD immediately for any known or suspected COVID-19 cases
b. Send potential COVID-19 cases home
c. Keep a seating chart for each class and provide
to GCHD on request
d. Work with GCHD for contact tracing and isolation
of cases and contacts
Response may range from isolating an individual
student to quarantining a school in the event of multiple cases. Testing may be recommended and is
available through Galveston County at 832-632-6731.

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