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San Antonio Metro Health amended health directive says in-person instruction not recommended

Dr. Junda Woo, San Antonio Metro Health Medical Director/Screen Grab-COSA GOV video

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – San Antonio Metro Health has issued an amended health directive for public and private schools from kindergarten through university level.

Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo says the school indicator bar is in the Red Zone, which means in-person learning is not recommended.

 “Our data show that schools are less risky places than we thought at the start of the pandemic, but we also know that avoiding extra risks will help contain our current surge. We urge parents to choose remote learning until we can get over this hump,” said Woo.

Her appeal was aimed at parents because she says schools are bound by Texas Education Agency rules.

“The TEA says any parent who chooses for their child to be in school has to be accommodated,” said Woo.

She announced the amended health directive Tuesday evening as Metro Health confirmed 1,294 new COVID-19 cases bringing the total since the pandemic began to 89,490.  There were nine additional deaths. The death toll stands at 1,406.

The number of patients being treated for coronavirus in local hospitals has risen to 646.  Of those 220 are in ICU and 114 are on ventilators.  Twenty-nine of the COVID-19 patients  are from El Paso  where hospitals are full.

Updates in the amended health directive include:

  • If in-person learning continues in the Red Zone, staff COVID testing should be used to reduce risk. In-person learning should be highly restricted and take place with fixed pods of no more than  six students
  • Standard 14-day quarantine is recommended in the Red and Yellow Zones
  • Colleges and universities are asked to remain virtual in the Red Zone
  • Pre-kindergarten through elementary school students are added to priority groups for in-person learning in the Yellow Zone
  • Occupancy in the Yellow Zone is increased to 50%, from 25%
  • Meals, breaks, locker rooms, training rooms, buses and shared housing are highlighted as situations where extra vigilance is needed

The directive recommends that all school systems tie their operational level to Metro Health’s Progress and Warning Indicators, including the weekly metric for school re-opening status. Metro Health’s weekly school risk level, which includes varying levels of virus prevention tactics and guidance within its Red, Yellow and Green Zones, can be found here. The community is currently in the red zone.

Students should stay home if they are sick, and individuals who are ill should not face negative consequences for staying home. People experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should be referred for testing, including at free testing sites listed at covid19.sanantonio.gov.

Reasonable accommodation must be made for qualified staff as required by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Schools that use several layers of mitigation against COVID-19 transmission are better candidates for expanded in-person activities in the Yellow Zone. School systems that are less able to mitigate should consider extending virtual learning or using smaller cohorts, even if the school risk level is in the Green Zone. Key steps include:

  • Maximal use of outdoor spaces and open windows, even in winter
  • Adhering to American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidance for school ventilation
  • Monitoring physical distancing, especially in break and lunch areas

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