If you breathed a sigh of relief when you saw that students who tested positive for COVID-19 were less than one-half of 1 percent of the students who had returned to school for in-person instruction, it means a couple of things.
One, it means you aren’t one of those kids or a family member. And, two, state leaders’ efforts to downplay the threat that COVID still represents for students and school employees may have worked, at least in your case, because the figures are misleadingly low.
They are misleading because school districts don’t have to require COVID testing of students, and many Texas districts aren’t, as noted in the Texas Tribune article at the bottom of this post. Districts will be reporting only positive results from COVID tests that students or employees voluntarily report or someone else reports to the district. That means many school employees, students and parents won’t know for sure how many people at their schools are infected with the disease until their co-workers or classmates start showing symptoms.
By then, who knows how many other students, teachers, cafeteria workers or others will have been infected. COVID patients are contagious even before they start developing symptoms, which is why testing is so critical. But large-scale testing is still a problem that neither the state nor federal government has adequately addressed. And even if a school district routinely runs temperature checks of students and employees, someone who is infected with COVID but is asymptomatic will not register a fever.
The new reporting system, which will be updated every week by the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of State Health Services, is a step in the right direction of keeping the public informed about the COVID presence in public schools. But it leaves a lot to be desired.
The small percentage of students who were reported COVID positive in the first weekly report totaled 2,344 kids. They were among 1.1 million students who already had been back at school for in-person instruction or some other school activity. That is about one-fifth of Texas’ total public school enrollment. Some 2,175 school employees also tested positive.
As more school districts resume in-person instruction, the shortcomings in the reporting system will become more obvious. Also, many school districts are not enforcing health and safety guidelines and are otherwise ill-equipped to guarantee student and employee safety.
So far in an ongoing survey, more than 700 TSTA members have reported more than 4,000 violations of COVID safety guidelines in more than 130 districts around the state. The reopening of schools remains very much a health problem that could quickly get larger as more districts welcome students back to campus.
State releases numbers showing low Texas public school infection rates, but the data is limited https://www.texastribune.org/2020/09/17/texas-students-coronavirus-schools/