(Pexels)

Austin ISD will return to in-person learning on Monday, Oct. 5.

As Austin ISD prepares to join other area school districts in reopening for in-person learning, local health authorities said data shows transmission in school settings is mostly limited to extracurricular activities, such as football, cheerleading and band.


"We don't have any evidence right now of transmission between students and staff," Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott told the Austin City Council during his weekly update on Tuesday.

The Austin school districts that have reopened for in-person learning have done a good job so far, Escott said, and capacity limits have allowed faculty time to make modifications as needed.

"Our goal is to avoid substantial, sustained outbreaks in school," he said.

In total, local primary and secondary schools have reported 24 COVID cases among students and 21 among staff since mid-August. An additional 116 people have been identified as "close contacts" of impacted students and staff, according to Austin Public Health data.

As more schools prepare to reopen to students, Escott urged Austinites to continue taking precautions, such as wearing masks, social distancing and screening themselves for symptoms on a regular basis.

"Ultimately success depends on people being engaged and doing that self-screening before leaving their house every day," he said.

AISD plans to return to in-person learning next week, later than other area school districts, including Eanes ISD, Lake Travis ISD and Round Rock ISD. It will start at 25% capacity and increase the number of students on campus as it is safe to do so.

Escott expressed support for AISD's reopening plan during a school board meeting on Monday.

But Education Austin, a union representing AISD employees, has pushed back against the plan. The organization hosted a caravan protest on Saturday and has called on the district to reopen only when certain metrics are met.

"The district should be focused on data and common sense, not artificial dates," Education Austin posted on its Facebook page on Monday. "Safety first, and reopening second."

The Austin area is currently "solidly in Stage 3," according to APH's risk-based guidelines, Escott said Tuesday. Hospital admission rates have been "relatively flat" for the last 10 days, he added.

At this level, APH recommends schools reopen at no more than 25% and phase in to up to 50% capacity. Escott said he is hopeful that the area can meet the threshold for a Stage 2 level of risk this fall, at which point APH recommends on-campus learning for up to 75% of a school's population.

Austin Public Health issued guidance for a phased-in approach to school reopening in mid-August.(Austin Public Health)

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