This is according to Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, who said during a July 14 Travis County Commissioners Court meeting that the nature of those interactions could increase the rate of transmission.
To that end, Lake Travis ISD Superintendent Brad Lancaster and board President Kim Flash advocated for increased authority for local districts in planning for the reopening of the 2020-21 school year in a July 15 letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.
The statement confirms in-person classes will be suspended at LTISD until at least Sept. 7 in accordance with a July 14 order issued by the city of Austin and Travis County.
LTISD has further requested the ability to extend the suspension if necessary due to the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lancaster noted the delay of in-person classes outlined by Escott has provided district staff with the flexibility to further prepare for a safe reopening.
Travis County’s order contradicted recent guidelines put forth by the TEA, which called for districts to provide in-person instruction for all students who wish to be on campus—a recommendation that received direct criticism from neighboring districts, including Eanes ISD.
“[TEA’s guidance] removes our ability to fully address teacher and staff safety, including space limitations due to social distancing requirements,” LTISD’s letter states.
Escott addressed these safety concerns and others at the July 14 Commissioners Court meeting prior to issuing the updated orders.
During that meeting, Escott also confirmed the risk of students displaying severe symptoms from the coronavirus is relatively low compared to other age groups, but he said there may be a higher likelihood of transmission.
Escott presented a set of “sobering” numbers tied to districts that fully reopen in August without a working vaccine. Specifically, he examined statistics at LTISD, the district his children attend.
LTISD serves about 10,695 students and 603 teachers based on 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a number that has increased in the past year.
Per those numbers, Escott estimated anywhere from two to 74 students could die as a result of COVID-19 if Lake Travis ISD opened at full capacity, and fatalities could be up to 10 times higher for teachers.
There is some uncertainty in the fatality rates of younger individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 due to the overall low percentage, but Escott estimated the rate to be anywhere between 0.03% and 1.02% for children ages 10 to 19.
Based on these risks, Escott suggested local districts consider a “default position” that the entire fall semester should take place virtually.