Editor: Shannon Cottongame
September 8, 2021
Local school districts have updated COVID-19 protocols after the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released new guidance and as cases continue to rise.
Whitney ISD will now require that students and staff members who live with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 quarantine for 10 days unless they are fully vaccinated.
The TEA recently updated its guidance allowing districts to require those with household members who have tested positive to quarantine. The guidance applies to districts in areas with high or rising case numbers.
In addition, based on TEA guidance, the district is now recommending that staff members quarantine if they are not fully vaccinated and are determined to be a close contact of a person with COVID-19 in a classroom setting.
Unvaccinated staff members who choose not to stay home after an exposure at school will be required to be tested by the district every other day for 10 days.
In a letter to Whitney ISD staff, Superintendent John McCullough said that he had received questions as to why it is being recommended that staff members quarantine after an on-campus exposure but students are not required to stay home.
The superintendent said that an answer to that question has not been provided by the TEA.
The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees also approved a resolution Monday, August 30, to provide 10 local COVID-19 days for all employees that can be used if a staff member tests positive or has to quarantine as a close contact.
Like other districts in the area, Whitney ISD has experienced an increase in cases this school year.
Since the beginning of school on August 18, the following numbers had been reported at Whitney ISD as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, September 3: Whitney Elementary School – 13 students (3.35%), four staff members (7.41%); Whitney Intermediate School – seven students (2.31%), no staff members; Whitney Middle School – 10 students (2.87%), three staff members (5.45%); Whitney High School – 23 students (5.32%), two staff members (2.63%).
McCullough said that the district had 58 active cases as of last Friday afternoon, with 16 of those individuals scheduled to return to school Tuesday, September 7.
Throughout the state, the plans of area school districts continue to evolve as the start of school and the resurgence of COVID-19 came at the same time this year.
Statewide, more Texas students tested positive for COVID-19 between August 16-22 than in any week last school year, according to Department of State Health Services (DSHS) data.
For the week ending August 22, the state reported 18,111 student cases and 4,371 staff cases in public schools. Data released for the week ending August 29 showed that 27,353 new student cases were reported that week along with 4,447 staff cases. As the case numbers increase, updates to COVID-19 protocols have been announced by several districts.
Aquilla ISD Superintendent Dr. David Edison announced last week that his district will begin checking temperatures at all entrances of the school. Any students or staff members who develop a fever during the day will be directed to the school’s rapid testing center.
“No tests will be conducted without parental consent, but no students or staff will be admitted onto campus experiencing a fever,” the superintendent wrote in a letter to parents.
Aquilla ISD will also offer rapid testing on Sundays in the school library, and all school wide assemblies have been moved outdoors to minimize risk.
Aquilla was reporting 28 active student cases (8.36%) and four active staff cases (6.15%) as of last weekend. Dr. Edison reported last week that if those numbers continue to rise, the district will have to explore other options, such as the return of social distancing and masks or even school closures.
As of Sunday, September 5, DSHS was reporting a total of 295 estimated active COVID-19 cases in Hill County, with 125 total confirmed fatalities. Bosque County data showed 177 estimated active cases with 43 confirmed fatalities.
In Trauma Service Area M—which includes Hill, Bosque, McLennan, Limestone and Falls counties—DSHS was listing 203 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, with 45 on ventilators. There were no available staffed adult or pediatric intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in the region as of Sunday.
Vaccination rates continue to increase slowly in both Hill and Bosque counties. As of Sunday, September 5, about 46 percent of Hill County residents had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with approximately 38 percent fully vaccinated. Close to 50 percent of Bosque County residents have now received one dose, with 42 percent of Bosque County residents fully vaccinated.
Vaccines are available from a number of local medical offices and pharmacies. A statewide website is available to help the public easily find vaccines at getthevaccine.dshs.texas.gov.
Hill County Judge Justin Lewis said Friday, September 3, “We continue to trend upward on the number of new cases locally. I encourage anyone who is sick to stay home. That includes those that don’t feel they are sick but members of their household are sick. We must all continue to do our part to slow the spread of the virus.” The judge added, “Keep your chin up; there will be an end to this pandemic and we will get there by working together.”