WACO, Texas (KWTX) – COVID-19 cases are on the rise again throughout Central Texas right before the start of the school year, but Central Texas schools and officials plan to proceed with the protocols they ended last school year with.
The FDA approved the vaccine and single booster for children ages 5-11 during last school year, but Waco ISD said the schools will not require students to get vaccinated before the upcoming school year.
“Waco ISD does not require nor discriminate against anyone who has or hasn’t had the COVID vaccine,” Waco ISD Director of Health Services Rhiannon Settles said. “We do encourage everyone to check with their primary care provider to determine the best decisions for their personal health.”
The district said there has been an increase in families receiving the vaccines at partnered clinics as the school year inches closer.
Waco ISD could not report a specific number of students and staff who are vaccinated since it is not required, but they said they have given almost 4,000 COVID vaccines since February 2021 based on campus and community clinics partnered with Ascension Providence and Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.
Settles said COVID-19 vaccine rates are low nation-wide for younger age groups. Waco-McLennan County Director of Public Health Services LaShonda Malrey-Horne said she expects the COVID vaccine rate for younger age groups to increase with time.
“We’re really hoping that, just as we move into the next phase of the pandemic, families will begin to just make the COVID-19 vaccine a part of their normal vaccine regimen, just like we would do with Flu or with any of the other traditional vaccines that kids get to go back to school,” Malrey-Horne said.
As for a “normal” school year, the district will continue to follow CDC and health district recommendations. Settles said masks are optional, and students who are vaccinated or unvaccinated will be asked to quarantine at home for at least five days following a positive COVID test. If students feel well enough to return to school after the five days, the district asks students to wear a mask for an additional five days at school.
Waco ISD said they will continue to clean campuses with hospital-grade disinfectant to prevent the spread of the virus, and any bacteria or viruses.
The district asks staff and students to continue to monitor their symptoms. Malrey-Horne emphasized the importance of testing for COVID if you start to notice any symptoms.
“The main reason we want people to keep getting tested is because that’s the only way we’re going to decrease our spread, is to know who’s infected and stop the exposure point,” she said. “I think you could just err on the side of safety and test yourself if you start feeling any of those respiratory symptoms, especially if you typically don’t have those kind of symptoms.”
The New York Times Map and Case Count of coronavirus shows an average of 103 new cases daily in McLennan County, 147 in Bell County and 39 in Coryell County. However, the average daily cases are under 10 in Falls, Hill, Freestone and Bosque counties.
McLennan and Bell counties continue to have only one known case of monkeypox in each county. However, Malrey-Horne said the district is researching and learning about the virus right now. Because this is not an airborne virus, she said the best thing to tell your children to protect them from monkeypox is to “keep your hands to yourself.”
“While we don’t want to alarm anyone, we definitely want our community to be aware that there is a threat of a monkeypox outbreak in our community,” she said. “A lot of times we just get into the excitement of being back at school and happy to see people we haven’t seen for a few months…just remembering to remind our younger ones to hold off on the hugs this month.”
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