Hidalgo and Executive Director of Harris County Public Health Dr. Umair Shah sent a letter to Harris County school districts on Monday. In the letter, Hidalgo urges schools to halt in-person learning for at least eight weeks and also includes recommendations that schools should take to protect the health and safety of the community.
Harris County's COVID-19 Threat System is currently at "Red Level 1: Stay Home," meaning there is severe and uncontrolled virus transmission in the community. There are more than 35,000 active COVID-19 cases in the county and Hidalgo said in-person instruction provides the possibility for a new wave of cases to develop.
Hidalgo and Shah recommended districts to "make accommodations for remote learning, cancel all extracurricular activities until in-person instruction resumes and for written plans to be developed and shared with parents and community members regarding steps that will be taken to protect health and safety on campus."
The plan in place for Houston ISD already conforms to the recommendation of the health department because it does not provide for on-campus learning until Oct. 12.
Health officials say the COVID-19 threat extends off-campus, which is especially dangerous when you start talking about family members of students and educators.
“It’s not fair to risk the health of teachers, or educators or other support staff when we reopen schools,” said Harris County Public Health's Sherri Onyiego. “It is a large concern that kids could potentially spread it to teachers, to parents, to grandparents who could be more vulnerable."
Here's more from Hidalgo and Shah:
“Today, our community remains in the midst of a severe and uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. The fastest way to reopen our schools over the long haul is to flatten and -- just as importantly -- substantially bring down our hospitalization curve.
“We commend local school districts who have made the hard decision to defer in-person instruction. We know that this has been a very challenging time for everyone in our community -- and particularly so for students, teachers and parents. In-person instruction is vital for the educational development and social wellbeing of children and young adults. In addition to their key roles in learning, schools promote the development of social and emotional skills and offer opportunities for physical activities. For low-income families, schools also provide much-needed food assistance by offering students healthy meals and access to resources they may not otherwise have.
“We must come to grips with the fact that in order to learn and grow, students must be healthy and safe. That means not setting arbitrary dates for reopening schools that provide false hope, dates this virus does not recognize or respect. Instead, our focus should be on thresholds and on developing measured reopening plans.”
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