COVID-19 positivity rates in Austin schools worry health officials

ERIN SCHUMAKER
·2 min read

Sky-high COVID-19 positivity rates at schools in Austin, Texas, have local health officials on edge.

In Travis County, where Austin is located, the COVID-19 testing positivity rate is 20.2% at high schools, 27.1% at middle schools, 19.8% at at elementary schools and 10% at preschools.

All rates stand far higher than what the World Health Organization recommends, which is to get positivity testing thresholds below 5% for 14 days.

Part of the problem may be that schools in the area are nearly full. "Some of our superintendents reporting that some individual schools are at between 70% and 90% of occupancy," said Dr. Mark Escott, interim medical director and health authority for Austin Public Health.

"This is a recipe for disaster. It's a recipe for outbreaks in our schools," Escott said.

PHOTO: A nurse makes a bed in a Covid-19 isolation bay at the Austin Convention Center on Aug. 7, 2020 in Austin, Texas. The cavernous facility was prepared for use as a field hospital for Covid-19 patients, if Austin hospitals were to become overwhelmed. (John Moore/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: A nurse makes a bed in a Covid-19 isolation bay at the Austin Convention Center on Aug. 7, 2020 in Austin, Texas. The cavernous facility was prepared for use as a field hospital for Covid-19 patients, if Austin hospitals were to become overwhelmed. (John Moore/Getty Images, FILE)

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Escott and the Austin Independent School District are urging parents to keep their kids at home if they are able to, according to ABC News Austin affiliate KVUE.

"And in addition to the impact on our children's health, on our teachers and school staff, so is the continuity of education," Escott said. "We are going to quickly see that we are going to run out of teachers in order to provide in-person education."

At the same time, Austin is grappling with increasing hospitalizations and dwindling ICU space.

This week, the state opened the Austin Convention Center as a field hospital for less severe COVID-19 patients who need lower levels of care.

The site, which will have 25 beds, can expand to include more beds if needed, and is meant to "reduce the burden on local hospitals and help ensure that Texans diagnosed with COVID-19 receive the care they need," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement.

Texas surpassed 2 million COVID-19 infections this week, making it the only state other than California to hit that milestone, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been 31,277 deaths from the virus in the state since the outbreak began.

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COVID-19 positivity rates in Austin schools worry health officials originally appeared on abcnews.go.com