LHISD amends mask rule after Day 1

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Liberty Hill ISD made a change to its mask policy as students returned to class late last week, in a heightened effort to ensure the district is doing all it can to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on campuses.

In a letter sent to parents Friday, the second day of classes, Superintendent Steve Snell apologized for any confusion, but spelled out the reasons for the abrupt policy change that now requires students and staff to wear masks all day while inside.

Masks were required under the original protocol, but more leniency was given to when they were required based on setting and social distancing practices.

The primary reason for the change was the announcement of two positive COVID-19 cases among staff during the staff development period before school began.

“The staff did everything we asked them to do, making sure to be more than six feet apart before removing their masks,” Snell explained in the letter. “In a room with just seven people, distanced as much as possible, the virus was spread to a second staff member by someone who contracted the virus outside of school and was asymptomatic. A few days later, both had symptoms and received confirmed positive tests. Based on the CDC protocol, this constitutes community spread. Due to the fact that masks were not worn (even though they were socially distanced), multiple staff members had to be quarantined.”

The letter goes on to explain that exposure to positive cases are minimized, requiring less quarantining, if the positive case and others in the room are all wearing masks at all times. Snell also cited the large number of students who have returned to on-campus learning, making proper social distancing at all times a challenge.

While the State of Texas is requiring school districts to begin reporting COVID-19 cases, which will then be made public across the state through the Department of State Health Services, Liberty Hill ISD acted locally early, launching its own COVID-19 dashboard this week to keep the community updated on local cases connected to the school district.

The cases reported on the dashboard do not imply the positive case was a result of exposure or activity on campus, but reflects a student or staff member that has tested positive. The district is reporting 12 total positive cases since July 1, with nine of those connected to the high school.

At the high school there are seven reported cases among students, four of which are listed as recovered, and two among staff.

Rancho Sienna Elementary lists two recovered staff members, and Liberty Hill Elementary lists one student as an active case.

The dashboard can be found on the district’s Return to Learn webpage, along with a new form for after-hours COVID-19 case reporting for the community.

COVID-19 numbers
August ended with 192,023 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Texas, representing 31 percent of all cases in the State since March.

That case total, though, was almost 70,000 less than July, but there were fewer tests conducted in August, and throughout much of the month the positivity rate was considerably higher than at any point in July.

There was a dramatic reduction in number of tests, with more than 400,000 fewer tests administered in August than in July. There were 1.29 million tests statewide in August, representing 26 percent of all tests since the effort began in March, compared to 34 percent in July.

The daily positivity rate climbed as high as 24.5 percent in mid-August, spending much of the month between 13 and 20 percent, but on the last day of August it had dipped to 10.13 percent.

Hospitalization numbers continue to drop, with 4,203 hospitalized on Monday, but in spite of that decline, there were 5,967 COVID-19 fatalities in Texas in August, representing 48 percent of the total since the pandemic reached the state.

Williamson County added more than 2,200 confirmed cases in August, and more than 40 deaths, though the fatality numbers were adjusted down in late July after reaching 100 July 28. Five days later, when the new death total was published by the Williamson County and Cities Health District, it had dropped to 80.

Despite requests from The Independent, the City of Liberty Hill is not reporting local numbers, but according to the County report, the total number of confirmed cases in the 78642 zip code since March remains between 50 and 250.

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