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Schools shouldn't return to in-person learning until Harris County drops below Red alert level, Hidalgo says

The county’s new “Roadmap to Reopening” plan offers guidance for school districts as they navigate the challenges of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HOUSTON — As school districts in the Houston area struggle with critical decisions on when and how to reopen, Harris County has unveiled a “Roadmap to Reopening” with recommendations.

County leaders worked with health experts to come up with guidelines for a “realistic, responsible, safe, and sustainable” reopening.

“We must come to grips with the fact that in order to learn and grow, students must be healthy and safe,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement. “That means not setting arbitrary dates for reopening schools that provide false hope; dates this virus does not recognize or respect.”

RELATED: Houston-area school districts reveal reopening plans amid COVID-19 pandemic

The "Roadmap to Reopening" recommends no in-person learning until Harris County drops below Red Alert level 1.

To improve to level 2 or orange, there would have to be:

  • Fewer than 400 new cases a day over a 14-day period
  • A positivity rate below 5% for 14 days
  • Fewer than 15% of ICU beds used for COVID-19 patients

Harris County's current positivity rate is 15.1%.

At level orange, the county advises schools to limit capacity to 25% or 500 people -- whichever is lower – require masks and enforce social distancing.

At level yellow, schools should limit capacity to 50% or 1,000 people, whichever is lower.

RELATED: Program to provide online devices, access to children in Harris County wins approval

RELATED: Digital divide: Many kids 'not engaged' during remote learning, not completing assignments

Leaders say rushing to reopen could backfire.

"It is a terrible place to be if we reopen schools, and just a couple of days later, they have to close," said Dr. Umair Shah with Harris County Public Health.

The state has stripped local governments of the ability to control when schools return, but Hidalgo hopes districts will follow the guidelines.

“We are going to get through this, we will be back in school one day – but we’ll be safe when we do it," she said.