AUSTIN, Texas - When school starts next month there will be reading, writing, and arithmetic for local school kids, but it will all be done online.
Campuses are to remain locked up for the first three weeks of the new school year, until September 8th, as part of an order issued Tuesday by Austin Public Health.
Wednesday, during a media briefing health officials, defended that order by saying going 100% online for almost a month will buy school districts time to better prepare for in-person classes.
"TEA has given some great recommendations,” said Dr. Jason Pickett the Austin-Travis County Alternate Health Authority. "The recommendations need time to be worked out according to Pickett, who said a school’s footprint can’t be increased overnight. The order gives school districts time to work on those plans."
As to if the all online order could be extended into next year, health officials said the COVID-19 prediction models are not good enough to determine that, right now.
According to Dr. Pickett, they cannot say what conditions will be like in October. A spokesperson for the Texas Education Association told FOX 7 Reporter Natalie Martinez Wednesday afternoon that a local Public Health Authority can keep schools closed for in-person instruction this Fall without risking state funding. Official information clarifying that statement is expected to be issued Thursday or Friday.
During the briefing Wednesday, APH did explain how it calculated a dire prediction made on Tuesday. Travis County Commissioners, during their regular meeting, we're told that between 40 and 1,300 children would die, if in-person classes started up. It was revealed, by Dr. Pickett, the data for that estimate came from hard-hit areas like China.
A total lockdown or stay-at-home order similar to what happened back in Spring is what the Austin Public Health Authority wants. While Governor Greg Abbott appears willing to allow the start of in-person classes to be delayed, Abbott has made it clear he is against a statewide shutdown. With that in mind, a self-imposed stay at home rule was suggested.
"My call today, is a call for action,” said APH Director Stephanie Hayden.
Hayden wants residents to ask themselves what three things they can do to make things better for their community. While Hayden said the area needed good examples and ambassadors, APH Chief Epidemiologist Janet Pichette called for unity.
"This is not our fight, it’s the community's fight,” Pichette said
The health authority noted the number of hospitalizations seems to be leveling off. However, with no guarantee that will continue, it was announced a hard date for the opening of an overflow- field hospital at the Austin Convention Center.
The site will be ready to start accepting patients on Tuesday.
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.