Students head back to class as COVID cases rise

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By Kristen Meriwether

 When students and teachers left campus for their winter break on Dec. 17, COVID cases were low in the district. There were class parties and parents on campus for a variety of holiday events. 

 Williamson County was holding steady with an average of 75-100 new cases per day, according figures from the County’s COVID dashboard. 

 What a difference two weeks makes.

 A combination of holiday interactions, travel and the omicron variant have led to a widely different COVID picture as students headed back to Liberty Hill ISD schools on Tuesday. 

 On Monday, 20 students self-reported testing positive for the virus, bringing the total to 25 since New Year’s Eve, according to the LHISD COVID Dashboard. Twelve teachers self-reported on Monday, brining the total to 24 since New Year’s Eve.

  On Sunday, Williamson County reported 1,864 new cases, smashing a previous pandemic record, according to the County’s COVID dashboard. The County reported over 1,000 cases in the first two days of the year, the last day data is available.  

 Nationwide testing shortages have not helped. At-home tests sold out of many local pharmacies and large-scale retailers like Amazon and Walmart were not expected to be restocked until the first few weeks of January. 

 LHISD did not send students home with test kits prior to the break and does not have kits to send home now, according to Superintendent Steven Snell. 

 “One of the challenges for our community is with the spike in cases, testing options for our staff and community are limited,” Snell said Tuesday. “We are hoping to partner with the City of LH [Liberty Hill] to bring a testing site back to our area.”

 Curative, one of the largest free COVID testing companies in the country, does not operate any sites in Liberty Hill. They do, however, have sites in Leander, Cedar Park, two in Georgetown and one in Round Rock. As of Tuesday morning the earliest available appointment was Saturday, with nearby Leander and Cedar Park having no appointments available until Jan. 10. 

  As students and staff return to campus, the district is asking everyone to self-evaluate their symptoms and stay home if they feel ill.

 “The number one way to prevent the spread of COVID or any transmissible illness is to stay home if you have any symptoms,” Snell said. “We ask that families evaluate their child’s health and keep them home if they have any symptoms. We will also continue with our protocols to keep our schools and buses clean.”

 In early November when the COVID numbers were low, the district relaxed its COVID policies and began allowing parents to eat on campus and for schools to host larger events and activities. Snell said for now, that policy will remain in place.  

  “If actual data shows the need to restrict access to the campus, close classrooms, or even schools, we will evaluate that data and make decisions based on the data,” Snell said. 

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