HOUSTON — If some Houston-area schools were to open back up for on-campus learning this week, as many as 50 students and teachers would show up infected with COVID-19. That’s according to a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
The group estimated risks for school reopening by developing probability models for COVID-19 prevalence and applying those to school size. For every Texas county, researchers used the number of reported cases and then factored in an underreporting estimate for asymptomatic cases.
“Our estimates show that even in low-risk counties in Texas right now, schools should prepare for students and staff to come infected,” said Spencer Fox, Associate Director for the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
Those estimations forecast the number of infections for a school with 500 people. In Chambers and Montgomery counties, for example, there would be two infections in a 500-size school opening this week. In Harris County, there would be three infections on a similar-sized campus. In Galveston and Brazoria counties, there would be four and five campus infections, respectively.
According to the data, Fort Bend County is most at-risk in the Greater Houston Area, with eight students or staff showing up infected on a campus of 500 people.
That means a large high school, with more than 3,000 students, could see upwards of 50 infections when on-campus learning begins.
“Schools really need to think deeply about how much risk they’re willing to take and how their local community dynamics are influencing their risk,” Fox said.
Researchers hope the metrics will help parents and districts make informed decisions on the feasibility of opening schools safely.
“We are providing these estimates just to raise awareness, and so that schools and school districts and parents can plan for the risks ahead,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, professor of integrative biology and statistics and data sciences.