AUSTIN, TX — The health authority for Austin and Travis County on Tuesday issued emergency rules and orders aimed at ensuring the safety of residents amid ongoing spread of the coronavirus — including delaying in-person attendance at schools until mid-September.
Last week, Austin City Council authorized the health authority to adopt rules to protect individuals from COVID-19, creating an offense and penalty, and declaring an emergency. On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, adopted rules that align with council actions. The rules took effect immediately, and are set to expire Nov. 12.
The Austin-Travis County Health Authority control order, which derives its authority from Chapter 81 of the Texas Health & Safety Code, mandates specific actions aimed at slowing the spread and reducing the impact of COVID-19 on public health, Escott explained. The Emergency Rules govern individuals and sites within the City of Austin and impose requirements reasonably necessary to protect public health related to the transmission of COVID-19.
In response to the increasing rate of COVID-19 transmission, cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the Austin-Travis County area, Escott also created orders that require all public and private schools offering instruction to students in one or more grades, prekindergarten through grade 12 and any independent school districts within Austin-Travis County, to take a range of immediate actions to enhance protections against the spread of COVID-19 among the community. These orders took effect on Tuesday.
“The big challenge is maintaining operations when people get sick, especially when faculty and staff get sick as we see every year with influenza,” Escott said in a prepared statement. “Imagine that COVID-19 is twice as contagious as the flu. There would be a large impact on the continuity in individual schools primarily providing in-class education.” The following restrictions are effective as of the execution of this Order:
School systems shall not re-open schools for on-campus, face-to-face instruction until after September 7, 2020;
Virtual instruction shall be permitted as per a school system’s own plan;
Extracurricular sports and activities shall not take place until school systems re-open for on-campus instruction;
At least two weeks prior to re-opening for on-campus instruction and on-campus activities, the school or district shall develop a plan to be submitted to the Austin/Travis County Health Authority for re-opening on-campus activities and instruction and make the plan available for parents and general public.
“After consultation with stakeholders, direction and guidance for re-opening schools for on-campus instruction will be issued prior to September 7,” Escott said. “This order includes appropriate control measures based on the higher risk for spread of COVID-19 in schools due to the necessity of large groups gathering in indoor spaces and the difficulty for children to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines.”