The city of Indianapolis and Marion County are offering recommendations for all schools on best practices for reopening. Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine detailed the guidance, which includes the requirement of face masks for all students above the age of 8, during a virtual press conference Thursday.

Hogsett says a dedicated MCPHD team will be available to all schools for emergency testing with a 24-48 hour turnaround time for results. That team will continue working closely with superintendents, principals and other school leaders to review safety plans devised by schools.

The mayor says the city and county will also follow CDC guidelines that allow high-risk teachers, employees and students to opt out of in-person learning. 

“This time has been uncertain, frustrating and even at times, scary,” said Hogsett. “And these recommendations will mean a different way of life for our students, families, educators and support staff. But that is why we all must work together if we are to make this a great year for all Marion County students. By coming together in ways that are creative, constructive and helpful, we can offer reassurance to young people while at the same time protect our public health.”

Dr. Caine says the number of positive COVID-19 cases has risen steadily since the Fourth of July weekend. However, she says the county’s positivity rate has started to plateau around 9%.

The number of positive cases among children under the age of 11 is less than 0.5%, according to Caine, however that number rises going into middle and high school age groups.

Caine is recommending that middle and high schools operate with a hybrid of in-person and online instruction. She says if the county’s positivity rate goes above 10%, she will recommend that the schools move to fully online instruction. If that rate goes above 13%, then she would recommend elementary schools close as well.

Caine says if the county’s positivity rate goes below 5%, then all schools will be allow to fully resume in-person classes.

Hogsett said the recommendations were made based on data provided by public health experts and such recommendations could change.

“What we say today, while intended to help guide this fall semester, could change as we learn even more about the virus. What so many families are feeling right now, uncertainty, is one of the worse impacts of this ongoing pandemic. We cannot erase that uncertainty today, but we can lay out a path forward based on what we know today and reiterate our commitment to making changes when the facts dictate that we must make changes in order to preserve the public health.”

Hogsett announced the recommendations during a virtual news conference.