HOUSTON & HARRIS COUNTY HEALTH DEPTS: Health order requires no in-person instruction until at least Sept. 8

Harris County, Texas – July 24, 2020, Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health (HCPH) and Local Health Authority for Harris County, and David Persse, MD, FACEP, FAEMS, Local Health Authority for the Houston Health Department, signed a joint public health order requiring all public and nonreligious private schools in Harris County to remain closed to in-person instruction until at least September 8. The start of on-campus instruction and activity may be delayed further based on ongoing monitoring and assessment of public health mitigation conditions.

The order follows the release of a provision from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) permitting schools to delay in-person instruction and a letter sent to local school districts from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Dr. Shah on July 20 strongly urging schools to delay in-person instruction given the ongoing public health crisis. Over the past several weeks, Harris County authorities have consulted with local school officials, parents, teachers, and other public health and safety experts on reopening plans and the most responsible path forward regarding school operations.

“In order for students to be able to learn and grow, they must also be healthy and safe,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “Right now, we continue to see a severe and uncontrolled spread of this virus and it would be self-defeating to reopen schools as usual for in-person instruction. We are all desperate to move on from this crisis and get life back to normal. September 8 is still likely too soon, but the truth is, the fastest way we can all work together to bring this virus under control, the sooner we will be in a position to reopen again for the long term.”

“We cannot talk about sending our children, teachers, and staff back to school when the virus is spreading uncontrollably in our community,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “We are at a critical moment in the fight against COVID-19, and we must take a step back and work to lower the positivity rate and hospitalizations. It is important to keep encouraging people to social distance, wear face coverings, and get tested. In a few weeks, we can look again at the data, see where things are, and gradually move forward again.”

“Opening schools safely is a public health priority, “said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, local health authority for HCPH. Harris County schools must reopen in a manner that prioritizes the health and safety of children, staff, families and the community. Considering how widespread this virus is in the community, we feel it is not safe at this time.”

“We’re in a critical time in our mission of working together as a community to get COVID-19 under control,” said Dr. David Persse, local health authority for the Houston Health Department. “Sending students, teachers and staff into classrooms while this virus is still spreading uncontrollably is not only unsafe for the people in the schools, it’s dangerous for their families, friends and the entire community.”

In addition to the suspension of in person instruction, the order includes the following:

• Virtual instruction is allowed consistent with individual district or school academic plans. Instructors may use classrooms for video streaming if they are alone in the classroom and building occupancy does not exceed 10%.

• All school sponsored events and activities, including but not limited to clubs, sports, extra-curricular activities, fairs, exhibitions, academic and/or athletic competitions, must not take place in-person, on or off campus, until school systems resume on-campus instruction.

• By no later than Friday, August 21, 2020, each School System shall develop and submit a written plan with safety and health protocols for resuming in-person instruction and extracurricular activities to the Local Health Authority with jurisdiction over the school. School systems must make the plan available to parents and the general public.

Additional information regarding the joint order will be available on ReadyHarris.org