A Texas school district that closed for a week after two junior high school teachers died from Covid-19 within a few days, is now requiring masks inside all of its facilities as the community is seeing surge of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Connally ISD, in McClellan County, shut down all of its campuses on August 31 due to an increase of Covid-19 cases and rising absences by students and staff.
It announced last week that students, staff and visitors would have to wear masks in all schools and district buildings when in-person classes resumed on Tuesday after the scheduled Labor Day holiday.
“As educators, it is our duty to keep our students safe and healthy. We feel instituting a mask mandate is a step towards doing this,” Connally ISD Superintendent Wesley Holt said in an email to parents and employees.
Holt’s email also included a letter Connally ISD received from Waco-McLennan County Health District which said the spread of Covid-19 in the county “continues to accelerate at an alarming rate.”
Last week, the county saw the highest numbers of new daily cases, daily hospitalizations and daily deaths due to Covid-19 than at any point during pandemic, the letter said.
“We are at a critical point for hospital capacity and must take action to curb the spread of this disease. The most effective way for you to have an immediate impact within your schools is to drastically increase the use of facemasks,” the letter said.
Two social studies teachers at Connally Junior High School died last month after testing positive for Covid-19. Seventh grade teacher David A. McCormick, 59, died on August 24 and Natalia Chansler, 41, died on August 28, according to the district.
Chansler’s sister told CNN that she was trying to decide which vaccine she should get when she got sick.
During the closure, the district provided counselors to help students cope with the loss of their teachers and facilitated testing for students, district employees and the community.
“Nearly 600 people participated in the two-day event with an overall positivity rate of 16.3%. Many of those identified as positive for the virus were asymptomatic,” Holt wrote.
The district said it also deep cleaned and sanitized all of its buildings.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order in May banning mask mandates, but a number of districts have defied or tried to sidestep the order and are requiring masks.
The local mask mandates have triggered legal battles in state courts.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he would sue school districts in court over the mandates.
The health district said that at the beginning of this school year children aged 17 or younger made up 24% of Covid-19 cases in the county. That’s compared to 8% of overall cases at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Health officials also said the vaccination rate of eligible children who are 12 years old or older “is extremely low.”
Connally ISD is encouraging staff and eligible students to get vaccinated and has scheduled a free vaccination drive in the high school gym on September 13.
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