As cases of COVID-19 soar in Texas, all parents won’t be informed if there’s an outbreak of coronavirus in their children’s public schools.
Notifications will only be required if a district learns a child was a “close contact” of someone with the virus. Those parents can then “opt” to keep their child at home, according to new guidelines issued earlier this week by the Texas Education Agency.
Vaccinated people are not considered a close contact who should be informed, according to the guidelines, even though vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the disease.
The TEA also warns: “School systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask.”
In addition, schools will no longer be required to carry out contact tracing of a COVID-19 outbreak to determine the source of the virus and how it’s spreading in the school community. Tracing was dropped because data from last school year revealed “very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting and data demonstrating lower transmission rates among children than adults,” the TEA noted.
But health experts warn that the dangerously more contagious delta variant of COVID-19, which is currently the dominant strain in Texas, is having a far greater impact on children.
“We’re dealing with a variant that is more contagious, that is potentially more dangerous to children based on the number of children getting admitted to the hospital,” Dr. Seth D. Kaplan, president of the Texas Pediatric Society, told the Texas Tribune.
“Our concern right now is that we’re being given guidelines based on old conditions, but we’re not adjusting for what the current conditions are,” he warned. “We no longer have universal masking, and we have a much more contagious variant of virus.”
The delta variant isn’t only a threat to children, but to their parents, who can end up fighting for their lives in an intensive care unit after contracting COVID-19 from their children, said Kaplan. “Numbers have started to explode” from COVID-19 outbreaks at summer camps, he added.
Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina blasted the new guidelines as “woefully” inadequate to “help districts keep campuses, students and employees safe.”
School districts still must report positive COVID-19 cases to their local health departments and the state, but it’s unclear if those reports will be linked to the schools in public records that parents can access.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed an executive order banning mask and vaccine mandates in the state, a restriction noted in the TEA guidelines.
“Going forward, in Texas, there will not be any government-imposed shutdowns or mask mandates,” Abbott said Wednesday. “Everyone already knows what to do” — apparently even if they aren’t provided with significant information about COVID outbreaks threatening their children.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reported more than 13,500 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with 8,130 reported hospitalizations — the highest number of hospitalizations since mid-February. The seven-day rolling average for hospitalizations was up roughly 50% statewide, officials reported Wednesday.
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