Hundreds of Smithville, Bastrop students have active COVID-19 cases, data shows – Austin American-Statesman

As of Tuesday, 179 Smithville school district students and 17 staff members had active COVID-19 infections, according to the district’s virus dashboard. 

Of those, 86 students and eight staff cases were confirmed between Aug. 30 and Sept. 3, out of 116 tests administered by the district. 

Since the first day of school, 212 Smithville district students and 39 employees have contracted COVID-19.

Most students and staff have been getting tested through the district’s virus testing site, according to David Edwards, the district’s director of state and federal programs. About 10% of students who have tested positive for the virus got tested somewhere other than the district’s clinic, he said. 

So, calculating an accurate positivity rate — the percent of confirmed cases from the total number of conducted virus tests — is not possible since the total number of students and staff getting tested is not known. 

However, Edwards said the district has distributed around 650 tests to students and staff thus far this school year, which began Aug. 17, meaning about 35% of tests are resulting in positive virus confirmations. Most cases, around 31%, are coming from Smithville Junior High School.

The district does not require students nor staff to wear masks, district spokeswoman Ana Murray said, but a “healthy number” of them have been doing so. 

On Aug. 23 the Smithville school board declined to implement a face covering requirement at its campuses and facilities amid a growing surge in positive virus infections. In the first five days of this school year, the district had 65 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported at its campuses.

“I’m not saying we are encouraging masks, we are encouraging people to make their decisions that’s right for them,” Murray said. 

When someone in the district tests positive for COVID-19, they are instructed to stay home for 10 days from the day they tested positive or when they started showing symptoms. The district recently announced that in compliance with a new rule set by the Texas Education Agency, students and staff will also have to stay home for 10 days if someone in their household contracts the virus. 

The Smithville district, which has about 1,700 students, is the only district that is actively testing students, Edwards said. 

“If the goal is offering testing to students regularly, who are symptomatic or who have been in close contact with someone who has been and they’re concerned they might have COVID,” he said. “If they’re testing, they’re going to obviously be identifying a lot more than a district that isn’t testing their students. And I think if you ask around, you will find that there aren’t many districts around us that are testing their students.”

In the Bastrop district, there currently are 237 students and 43 workers with active COVID-19 cases, according to the district’s virus dashboard. 

The Bastrop district does not require students to get tested if they are in close contact with someone who has contracted the virus, district spokeswoman Kristi Lee said in a statement. If someone tests positive, the district starts contact tracing and notifies the parents of students who may have been exposed to the disease. 

The district, however, does require staff to get tested for COVID-19 if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus, as required by the TEA, Lee said.

Among the district’s population, a total of 526 cases have been reported since July 1. Most cases, around 16%, have come from Cedar Creek High School.

The Bastrop district has more than 11,300 students, and it does not offer in-school testing for students. 

So far this month, the Elgin district, which has a mask requirement in place, has confirmed 56 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff, according to the district’s virus dashboard. 

In August, a total of 88 cases were confirmed in the district, most of which came from the district’s high schools — Elgin High School, Phoenix High School and Elgin Early College High School.

The Smithville district, in addition to testing its students, offers vaccinations during the school day. The district is a host site for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which offers vaccines to the general public and students during the school day. 

So far, Murray said, more than 250 people have gotten their COVID-19 shots from the clinic. 

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say that the Bastrop district requires staff to get tested for COVID-19 if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus.

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