CANUTILLO, Texas – Canutillo Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Galaviz and El Paso City-County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza held a briefing Friday morning to address questions about a surge in Covid-19 cases at Canutillo Middle School and Jose Damian Elementary.
Students were participating in remote learning from home on Friday as the two schools were being cleaned and sanitized as a precaution. Officials said in-person learning would resume at both schools on Monday.
But ultimately, Galaviz and Ocaranza emphasized vaccination of students and parents as the only proven way to address the situation. The pair noted the rise in cases among Canutillo students coincides with an increase in infections across the county, with Galaviz adding that the district can't control the community spread factors taking place outside the schoolyard gates.
"This has become a pandemic of the un-vaccinated," said Ocaranza, who indicated the number of cases in the county's 7-day average have doubled in about a month. He explained that two out of every three infections involves those who are un-vaccinated, and 9 out of 10 El Paso hospitalizations for Covid are individuals who have not been vaccinated.
Galaviz and Ocaranza urged parents not to send their children to school if they show any signs of Covid symptoms. In some cases, they said parents have dismissed symptoms as allergies which actually turned out to be Covid infections.
Ocaranza strongly encouraged students - whether vaccinated or not - to wear masks when they return to classes, even as the issue continues to be battled out in court. The latest court decision this week indicated Texas schools could impose mask mandates, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's opposition, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Not wearing a mask is a also factor (in the spread of the virus)," Ocaranza noted. "No one likes to wear a mask, but we wear it because it protects." Ocaranza, who specializes in pediatric medicine, added that he didn't think mask-wearing posed a burden for students, saying, "I've seen young children wear the mask better than adults."
Galaviz expressed disappointment that Abbott was prohibiting vaccine and mask mandates among schools, suggesting he was playing politics and waging court battles instead of following "scientifically proven" data. Both the superintendent and health authority said medical science would continue to be their driving factor in determining safety protocols for the schools and the community.
Meantime, Galaviz downplayed his district's custodian shortage - and accusations of dirty classrooms - as a factor in the school Covid outbreak, saying such a claim wasn't supported by scientific evidence and serves as a distraction from the real issue of the need for "vaccination, vaccination, vaccination."