At an Aug. 12 press conference, Hidalgo also announced a plan including best practices recommended for schools to open safely once the 2020-21 school year begins.
“The countdown to the first day of school in person is like a ticking time bomb unless we do this right,” she said. “We made clear that it’s currently not safe, and it won’t be safe anytime in the near future, to open schools for in-person instruction.”
The plan recommends phasing in the opening of schools based on the county’s threat level system:
- Red: Schools should not be open for in-person instruction or activities.
- Orange: School districts can consider opening for in-person instruction and activities up to 25% capacity or 500 students—whichever is lower—in buildings or rooms.
- Yellow: School districts can consider opening for in-person instruction and activities up to 50% capacity or 1,000 students—whichever is lower—in buildings or rooms.
- Green: School districts can resume in-person instruction at their usual capacity.
Indicators in the level below red, orange or “significant,” include 201-400 new cases being reported per day countywide and 10%-15% of intensive care unit beds being used for COVID-19 patients.
Additionally, county officials are asking local school districts to submit safe reopening plans to Harris County Public Health for review. These plans should include procedures such as social distancing and health screening, according to officials.
Dr. Umair Shah, the executive director of Harris County Public Health, said the county’s road map to reopening schools was not only about campuses opening safely but making sure they are not forced to close again due to the spread of the virus.
This press conference comes the day after Harris County commissioners approved a $32.1 million initiative to distribute thousands of devices and internet hot spots to county students in need for virtual learning purposes.
Through a joint order issued July 24, Hidalgo mandated all public schools and nonreligious private schools remain closed for in-person instruction through at least Sept. 8, but Gov. Greg Abbott later said this decision can only be made by school boards.
“When it comes to dealing with this crisis, we shouldn’t be balancing politics with science—we should be balancing science with science,” Hidalgo said at the Aug. 12 press conference. “By committing to a common set of rules, we reduce the likelihood of the seesawing between open and close, which harms the students, which exhausts the community.”