Testing, reopening schools

By Anita Miller

The Hays County Commissioners Court covered a lot of ground in its weekly COVID-19 update.

Emergency Management Coordinator Alex Villalobos gave a rundown on ongoing testing, including plans to open a location on Hwy. 123 east of Interstate 35 in San Marcos as well as one in Dripping Springs.

The county is still working with laboratories regarding capacity to provide test results in a timely fashion as well as looking at new labs in order to diversify, Villalobos said.

County Judge Ruben Becerra, who recently toured the makeshift hospital in the Austin Convention Center, noted that Hays County patients will have access to beds located there. Christus Santa Rosa San Marcos currently has some local patients suffering from the coronavirus and Ascension Seton in Kyle handles triage, sending patients to Austin to dedicated COVID-19 units, which provide a “stronger concentration of care, a more efficient model” concerning personal protective equipment (PPE) and more.

“We have never been in jeopardy of running out of space,” Becerra said.

When the discussion turned to the impending opening of schools, Epidemiologist Eric Schneider, as well as Becerra, said they have been in discussion with the county’s school districts.

Schneider said he has been “discussing options, basically following what the governor ordered and the TEA suggested, keeping an eye on trends up and down the I-35 corridor with an eye to a safe way to return to school face-to-face.”

He noted that more cases of the virus are turning up in young people. “We had a dozen in that age range (10 to 20 years old) yesterday,” he said.

Regarding children 10 and under, he said a lot of pediatricians don’t test that age group and others assume a child has had it if their parents do. “A lot of children under the age of 10 are asymptomatic,” Scheider said.

Becerra alluded to a document he had prepared over the weekend with input from school district leadership but explained it was not yet ready to be released publicly.

He said he hoped it would be ready within 48 hours.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith again brought up concerns about Texas State University students returning to town, contrasting them with younger students who would be in the care of teachers or parents around the clock.

He said there are about 36,000 students in the county’s four school districts; however, his big concern is 38,000 to 39,000 college students “we have no idea where from coming into our community,” in addition to 3,500 fulltime staff who reside locally.

“We don’t have a parallel system for them,” Smith said. “The massive influx of infection was in that population.”

He suggested the county work with Texas State and suggested the university might delay the opening of classes until public schools do, possibly Sept. 8.

Smith then talked about the lack of a comprehensive plan for county offices if someone turns up infected. “We don’t have or don’t publish a plan,” he said, “for what is going to happen, standard operating procedure for each office that we have … our only plan is to shut it down.”

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