Code Orange, part I

What is Code Orange, and why does it mater to us?

Houston Health Department

Harris County has surpassed its 7% COVID-19 positivity rate, exceeding the HISD’s COVID gauge for permitting in-person school. As of Monday, November 16, 2020, the local positivity rates are moving in the wrong direction for schools to maintain face to face status. Statistics published on www.CovidActnow.org :

indicate Harris County has a current positivity rate of 8.4%, with numbers climbing, with a risk level of Red Zone 1.  With the data indicating community spread, why is HISD maintaining a COVID-19 Orange Level for the district? Students, staff and parents can find the current threat level published on the Westside High School website.  The information bar indicating Westside is under a Code: Orange level of COVID-19.  How exactly is this determined? With Harris County indicating a Red Level, Maximum Threat, why is HISD maintaining a lower level. As Westside moves into the third grading cycle, its estimated that an additional 100 students have opted to return to face to face instruction.  Putting somewhere between 400 – 500 students on campus at any given time.

How is the Code Orange Level determined and what does it mean?

HISD’s COVID GAUGE is based on the Harris County and CDC guidelines for maintaining school buildings in a open to students status.  As stated “COVID GAUGE Level 2: Orange – Significant risk. Minimize contacts, rolling school closures with required physical distancing. Orange signifies uncontrolled level of COVID-19 in the community.” Avoiding large gatherings outside of “household pod” is recommended.

Westside, and HISD have been under Level 2: Orange since October 19, 2020 when campuses opened for student and staff return.  As soon as October 20th, HISD had closed for deep cleaning a total of 17 school buildings due to either positive or presumptive positive cases on campus. Seeing this would be unsustainable, HISD quickly adjusted the requirements of closing schools to students.  After one day of students on campus, the guidelines were changed.  But is it possible. “Unfortunately, I think member of our community that now done there part to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Until we all understand and conform to social distancing, wearing masks, and washing our hands regularly, we will continue to experience positivity rates that merit HISD’s Code Orange risk category.” a popular sentiment expressed by Dean Cabral.

The Code Orange Level indicates the precautions Westside needs to incorporate in the day to day function. Promoting safety by minimizing contact. While all field trips are cancelled, athletes remain active with heavy restrictions.

While Harris County has remained in Level 1: Red, HISD has maintained one tick lower. The levels are set by positivity rates, local active cases, hospital occupancy, and ability to contact trace.  When asked for this story why HISD maintains a different risk level than Harris County, no source would reply.

What happens daily at Westside?

Every morning before entering campus, all Westside staff must answer a health check through an app on their phone.  This is HISD standard procedure.  The process requires staff to answer three questions, and take a tempurature reading. If cleared with a GREEN sticker, teachers are permitted to come to campus.  A RED sticker pauses that process. Westside has had teachers who were unable to attend school due to a RED indicator.

Westside senior is checked for elevated temperature before entering school to take the SAT on October 27, 2020 (Sharon Roberts)

Students are given temperature checks upon entrance every morning. They are required to wear masks (except during the 30 minute lunch), and maintain distancing when possible. With less that 400 students on campus, distancing has been accomplished. Everyone has done a good job of following guidelines.  Rooms are stanitized once every hour, with deep cleaning occuring every night. A notable change to a Westside day is the restroom policy.  Student restrooms are closed the first 30 minutes and the last 15 minutes of each class period. No students are permitted to leave the 30 minute instructional time, and during the final 15 restrooms are throughly cleaned and stanitized.

Lunch tables in the commons have been replaced by rows of well spaced desks and chairs.  A senior who didn’t wish to be identified described it as “Just plain weird.”

Student’s wait in the Commons prior to taking the SAT on October 27, 2020 (Sharon Roberts)

Code orange, part II takes a look at what comes next as HISD and Westside continue to navigate a school year during a world wide pandemic.

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