Austin ISD Mandates Masks for Back to School

Austin joins Texas districts in defying Abbott's COVID-19 orders


Students return to AISD classrooms last October for the 2020-21 school year (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Late Monday night, the Austin Independent School District joined Houston, Dallas, and other school districts across the state in defying Gov. Greg Abbott's COVID-19 orders and requiring masks for students, teachers, staff, and visitors when in-person learning resumes next week.

"I am responsible for the safety, the health, and the welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff," said AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde at a special called board of trustees meeting Monday. "And if I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short." The first day of school in AISD is Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Physicians, educators, caregivers, and health officials have all cited the unique risks the highly transmissible Delta variant poses for kids and teenagers, especially for students under 12 who still aren't eligible to be vaccinated. Hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients age 17 and younger have more than tripled locally, according to Austin Public Health; of the 34 young people admitted in July, half were old enough to be vaccinated. In Tuesday's joint city-county briefing, Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes – who also spoke to the AISD trustees Monday – reiterated her support of masking in schools, saying choices of whether to reopen schools with or without masks will significantly impact future ICU capacity in Austin, which is at an all-time low (see above).

Based on projections compiled by UT-Austin's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, schools reopening with masking in a setting in which high compliance is followed – meaning consistent mask-wearing, getting vaccinated (for those who are eligible), and staying home when sick – could potentially keep Austin from exceeding its ICU bed capacity. Walkes said, "Everything that we can do at this juncture to bend this curve downward is going to be important for our community."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Independent School District, Austin ISD, Back to School 2021, Greg Abbott, COVID-19, COVID-19 orders, school mask mandates, mask mandates, AISD Board of Trustees, Austin Public Health, Desmar Walkes, Stephanie Elizalde, UT-Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium

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