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‘We know that there’s gonna be a risk’ – but El Paso’s top doctor still ‘excited’ for return to classrooms

empty school classroom
An empty school classroom is seen in this file photo,

EL PASO, Texas -- Several major school districts are using a phased-approach to in-person instruction. El Paso city-county health officials say it's up to each district to determine how and when they want to begin face-to-face learning.

City-county health officials laid out parameters that could help each district determine when they think its safe to starting phasing students faculty and staff back.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza said school districts should look at different metrics: Starting with the 7-day rolling average of cases per capita. Cases should be less than 25 per 100,000 people. Another guidance point could be the positivity rate, which should be less than 7.5 percent. Lastly, Dr. Ocarazna says school districts should look at the 14-day steady decline of positive cases.

Ocaranza said he's happy that numbers are declining. He said he's "excited" that some children are heading back into the classroom, adding that the health department is going to monitor the situation closely.

"We know that there's gonna be a risk of somebody bringing the virus into the schools and that risk is not going to be completely been eliminated," Dr. Ocaranza said. "We're putting in a balance, the risk versus benefits and there's plenty of benefits that we can have by bringing children back to school."

Ocaranza said he's been in close contact with school districts. Many have changed and made improvements to the safety plans. School nurses have also been given guidance, according to Ocaranza. School's must also submit "absenteeism lists, especially for those children that have influenza like illness."

Dr. Ocaranza on Wednesday evening told ABC-7 that he's made the decision to allow his two children, ages 13 and 14, to go back to the classroom.

Ross Moore, president of the El Paso American Federation of Teachers, believes, based off the health department's parameters, it's still not safe to go back to the classroom.

“If there’s a spread rate greater than 5 percent, that’s internationally accepted," Moore said "It’s used in New York, it’s used in Harris Count. Setting it at 7.5 percent eased up and said take a little bit more risk... that’s not the kind of risk I’d take with kids.” 

Brianna Chavez

Brianna Chavez is an ABC-7 reporter/producer.



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