Montgomery County reported Tuesday an increase of more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases locally in a week and on Wednesday, thousands of local students returned to the classroom after winter break.
COVID cases have been rising rapidly over the last several weeks with the spread of the highly-contagious omicron variant. On Dec. 14, there were fewer than 2,000 active cases being reported by the county. Only three weeks later, the county is reporting an estimate of 9,547 active cases.
Conroe Independent School District, the largest district in the county with 68,000 students and the largest employer in the county, increased its COVID-19 safety alert level from two to three just as students were returning. On Tuesday, the district reported 150 student cases and 50 staff cases of COVID on its COVID-19 dashboard, the largest one-day increase since September.
The CISD level three alert includes the precautions from one and two — keep sick students and staff home; communicate with the county health department; daily department briefings; review continuation and pandemic plans; frequently clean common areas; and potentially limit travel, large gatherings, visitors, and deliveries — as well as extra precautions like recommending masking, cohorting students, and enhanced cleaning protocols.
“We look forward to welcoming your students back to school,” CISD Superintendent Curtis Null told the community in a video update Monday when he announced the move to alert level three. “While we are excited for all that this fall semester will bring, we know that we are once again facing a challenge with COVID in our community. The good news in this is that we have handled these challenges before.”
Since school was reopened in September of 2020, Null’s priority about the pandemic and the district response has been to keep students safe and keep school open. But what districts were allowed to do last school year is vastly different from what they can do this school year. School districts cannot mandate mask wearing or COVID vaccines for students or staff, and the Texas Education Agency did not grant schools a pass to conduct online school this year, limiting districts’ response to the virus in schools.
As part of the increased alert at CISD, the district will be enhancing cleaning protocols, limiting the size of indoor activities, and recommending masks. One advantage that CISD has this school year that it didn’t last year are new air filtration systems on each campus.
Back in September the school board approved an expenditure not to exceed $1.7 million to purchase the air filtration systems from Biodefense Indoor Air Protection, which claim to kill not only COVID but other airborne viruses as well.
“We will continue to monitor the impact of COVID in our community and we will move to level four if it is necessary, in the coming weeks,” Null said. “Hopefully in very short time we will be moving back to level two.”
CISD moved to level four just two weeks into the school year as the delta variant brought the highest number of cases in the district since the pandemic began. As cases dropped, the district moved to threat level two after the Thanksgiving break.
“We continue to work with the Texas Education Agency and the Department of State Health Services on our quarantine protocols. We’ve made some adjustments for our staff and we will continue to monitor the impact of quarantine on students,” Null said.
Changes to protocols or alert levels can be found on the district’s Roadmap to Remaining Open webpage at conroeisd.net/roadmap-to-reopening.