A sign outside of Booker T. Washington Elementary School says, "We miss you."
A sign outside of Booker T. Washington Elementary School says, "We miss you." Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio schools should not open for in-person instruction because of the state of the local coronavirus outbreak, the local health authority recommended on Friday.

The guidance on reopening schools comes after state actions stripped away local leaders’ ability to postpone in-person schooling themselves. The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District recommended in July that schools postpone in-person instruction until Labor Day, Sept. 7, but that was later nullified by a legal opinion from the Texas attorney general.

The amended public health directive says schools should reopen in three phases while keeping in mind such metrics as the doubling rate of COVID-19 cases and positivity rate of tests for guidance on how to reopen.

The phases are known as zones: red, yellow, and green. In the red zone, Metro Health advises against schools offering in-person instruction. However, they can offer services that do not involve prolonged contact for special-needs students, at-risk students, and students who lack access to appropriate learning resources such as the internet.

In the yellow zone, in-person instruction can be offered to high-priority students including those with special needs, at-risk students, and those who lack access to resources. Metro Health recommends schools give in-person instruction to six or fewer students per classroom. Schools should not exceed 25 percent occupancy in any building or room.

In the green zone, schools can offer in-person instruction to all, but social distancing must be maintained, hands must be washed frequently, and face-coverings are required.

The guidance also asks school systems to create a COVID-19 panel comprised of a student, teacher, parent, non-instructional staffer, medical representative, and human resources representative. The panels will make recommendations to school administrators and help develop a written health and safety plan to guide on-campus instruction.

Some school districts such as Boerne and Comal independent school districts, which have some schools in Bexar County, have opted to open despite the health authority’s recommendations. But if most schools adhere to the directive, the community will have time to lower the positivity rate to 5 percent, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. That is the rate called for in the green zone, where most normal in-person learning would resume.

Local school districts are following the advice of the local health authority, Wolff said, and area colleges and universities are also heeding public health warnings by offering remote learning and structuring classrooms around necessary social distancing measures. This includes the University of Texas at San Antonio, which is offering around 95 percent of classes online, and Texas A&M-San Antonio, where around 70 percent of classes will be online, Wolff said. 

With 360 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the total in Bexar County is now 42,299. Area hospitals continue to see a decline in COVID-19 patients with 770 hospitalized on Friday, down 31 from Thursday. 

Of those, 339 are being treated in intensive care, and 231 are on ventilators. 

Sixteen new deaths, which took place between July 14 and Aug. 5, were reported among people age 30 to 89. 

More than 6,000 coronavirus cases, or 15 percent, have been reported among people under the age of 19.

In mid-May, residents ages 18 and younger represented less than 4 percent of all cases, said Dr. Sandra Guerra, assistant director of Metro Health.  

Ages and ethnicities of deceased

7 Hispanic men ranging in age from 30 to 79

3 Hispanic women in their 40s and 70s

1 woman, ethnicity unknown, in her 40s

1 man, ethnicity unknown, in his 80s

1 Asian man in his 70s

1 Black man in his 80s

1 Black woman in her 60s

1 white man in his 60s

“We know that children respond very differently to COVID[-19] than adults do, and the science is still evolving,” Guerra said. “[It] is something that we absolutely have to keep an eye on as schools open.”

“No one is immune,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “And we have to make sure we are protecting everybody.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.