Metro Health issues updated guidance for public, private schools on how, when to reopen classrooms in San Antonio

Metro Health is requiring reporting of cases and updating a risk-level indicator

San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District issued its amended directive Friday for school officials who are gauging the safety of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (San Antonio Independent School District)

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District issued an amended directive Friday for public and private school officials who are gauging the safety of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the amended order, Bexar County school districts are encouraged to “tie their pandemic operational level to public health department metrics for community infection,” according to the order.

The school safety indicator, unveiled earlier this week by Metro Health, should be used to help school officials assess the spread of COVID-19 as they consider when and how to reopen, the city press release said.

The indicator includes three risk levels - red, yellow, and green - based on three factors:

  • Positivity rate - which is defined as the percentage of lab tests performed in the past week that ended up being positive for COVID-19. The rate is currently at 14.9% The goal is to get it down to 5% or lower.
  • Doubling time - which is defined as how many days it takes for the number of cases to double. The doubling time is currently at 21 days which Woo described as “good.”
  • Two-week continuous decline in COVID-19 cases, which hasn’t currently been reached.

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The indicator, first revealed Wednesday during a virtual town hall hosted by the city, shows the current risk level in Bexar County is high, which is the red zone.

When the risk level is high, or the indicator is red, in-person instruction is not recommended, but ancillary services that do not involve close contact can still be provided for special needs students, at-risk students and students who lack access to resources.

When the risk level is moderate, or the indicator is yellow, in-person instruction can be offered, but should prioritize the same students listed above. In the yellow zone, cohorts of six or fewer students per classroom are recommended and occupancy should not exceed 25%.

When the risk is low and the indicator is green, in-person instruction should still take place under CDC guidance to minimize community transition. These actions include social distancing, frequent hand hygiene and face coverings in close-contact scenarios.

School districts are required to report to Metro Health weekly the number of COVID-19-positive students and teachers, the percentage of staff and students absent or sent home in the last 14 days due to COVID-like illness and the number of students with influenza-like illness.

School districts should also create a seven-person panel to help provide guidance to the superintendent and schools boards. The panels should include a student, a teacher, a parent, a non-instructional staffer, a school nurse, a pediatrician and a human resources representative.

Metro Health experts say that during all phases, schools should adhere to the following guidelines: “Staff and students should stay home when sick, and sick individuals should face no negative consequences for staying home. Symptomatic people should be referred for testing.”

While most school district officials in Bexar County plan to follow Metro Health’s guidance, the directive as it relates to opening classrooms is not enforceable. Attorney General Ken Paxton issued his opinion, stating that schools were not required to follow local health authority directives, which was backed by Gov. Greg Abbott who said only local school district boards can decide when and how they should reopen.

Currently, the Texas Education Agency’s guidance allows schools to offer up to eight weeks of exclusively virtual instruction without risking funding. Beyond that, districts would need to apply for a waiver that the agency will evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Read the full directive below: