Texas Tribune: Classrooms Can Remain Closed This Fall If Health Officials Order It

As school districts and state officials continue to plan for the fall and Dallas County continues to report 1,000 new cases of COVID-19  or more per day, there’s a lot of information to keep up with. Here are today’s bullet points:

  • Texas Tribune: Classrooms can remain closed this fall if local health officials order it;
  • Jenkins: County on pace for “one of our deadliest weeks so far”;
  • Tito’s Vodka giving hand sanitizer away at Fair Park.
Texas Tribune: Classrooms Can Remain Closed This Fall If Health Officials Order It

A Texas Education Agency spokesperson told the Texas Tribune Wednesday that local health officials will be able to keep schools across the state closed for in-person classes this fall without risking state funding.

The agency last week released guidelines requiring schools to open for in-person classes five days per week for families who prefer that. That order allowed districts a transition period of three weeks at the beginning of the year to hold classes online and prepare safety plans before bringing students back on campuses. After that period, per the guidance, districts that continued only offering online classes would risk losing funding.

However, TEA officials then confirmed Wednesday that they’d keep funding school districts if local health officials order them to stay closed.

Allison Harris of FOX4 tweeted that Dallas County officials told her Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang is reviewing the latest TEA guidance and could be the local health official to make that sort of call locally. 

Gov. Greg Abbott also told a Houston TV station this week that the state would allow school districts more flexibility to remain online-only for longer than three weeks.

Houston ISD, for example, will remain online-only for the first six weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, the Houston Chronicle reported.

A TEA spokesperson also told the Texas Tribune that school superintendents and school boards can’t decide to remain entirely virtual for longer than three weeks without a mandate from local health officials.

Jenkins: County On Pace For “One Of Our Deadliest Weeks So Far”

Dallas County Health and Human Services Wednesday reported 1,055 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total case count in Dallas County to 36,969, as well as an additional eight deaths.

Among the dead are a Grand Prairie man in his 50s, a Dallas man in his 60s, a Mesquite woman in her 60s, another Dallas man in his 60s, a Duncanville woman in her 70s, and a Dallas woman in her 70s. Each had been hospitalized, officials say. A man in his 80s who lived in a Dallas long-term care facility and a man in his 90s who also lived in a Dallas long-term care facility also reportedly died after being hospitalized. Of the 485 total deaths reported to date, about a third have been associated with long-term care facilities. 

“The eight deaths we experienced today make it clear that by the time this week is over on Saturday, that this will be one of our deadliest weeks so far. I again urge Governor Abbott to enact the reasonable, business- friendly suggestions from the medical community that we sent him three weeks ago and have again urged him to enact since that time. Essentially, that request is to close in-restaurant dining and businesses like cigar bars where 100% mask wearing is not possible at all times. The longer we wait to enact these modest restrictions, the worse things will become and the more likely it is that more damage to the public health and the economy will occur,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “In the meantime, doctors and I strongly encourage you not to frequent businesses where masks cannot be worn 100% of the time or where there are high-touch surfaces. In addition to in-restaurant dining, these include the following: gyms, day camps, arcades, movie theaters, bowling alleys, amusement parks, concert venues, sporting arenas, group youth sports, public pools, weddings or other large events or venues.

An increasing proportion of COVID-19 cases in Dallas County are being diagnosed in young adults between 18 to 39 years of age, such that of all cases reported after June 1, half have been in this age group. Reports of cases continue to be associated with multiple large recreational and social gatherings since the beginning of June.

The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for COVID-19 was 30% among symptomatic patients presenting to area hospitals in week 27.

Of the cases requiring hospitalization to date, more than two-thirds have been under 65 years of age. Diabetes has been an underlying high-risk health condition reported in about a third of all hospitalized patients with COVID-19. 

Of cases requiring hospitalization who reported employment, over 80% have been critical infrastructure workers with a broad range of affected occupational sectors, including healthcare, transportation, food and agriculture, public works, finance, communications, clergy, first responders, and other essential functions. 

The county reported 648 COVID-19 patients in hospitals Tuesday. Additionally, the number of emergency room visits for COVID-19 like symptoms in Dallas County was 646 in the 24 hour period ending Tuesday, which represents nearly 35% of all emergency department visits in the county according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.  

“These numbers do show a bit of a decrease, but we again believe that is from a reporting issue,” the county reported. “Overall the impact on our hospitals and providers remains high.”

Wednesday data from from the Institute for Urban Policy Research, which collects data from the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council, indicates that, for Dallas County, about 82% of hospitals were reporting, and the occupancy rate is around 70%, roughly 78.6% of ICU beds were occupied, and the utilization rate for ventilators was about 50%.

Statewide, 282,365 cases have been reported in 249 counties from 2,642,199 tests as of Tuesday. Additionally, there were 10,471 COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the state as of Wednesday and 3,432 total fatalities reported.

The Texas Department of State Health Services also reported a misleading chart referencing COVID-19 and the flu and using the department’s logo has been circulating online. The department didn’t create or approve it.

Tito’s Vodka Giving Hand Sanitizer Away At Fair Park

Lastly, we end today’s digest with a Texas business giving back to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tito’s Vodka will give away 44,000 bottles of hand sanitizer today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., or while supplies last, at Fair Park. The entrance is at Gate 2 at the corner of Parry Ave. and Haskell Ave. Tito’s will provide three bottles of hand sanitizer per vehicle.

Tito’s asks that everyone who comes to pick up hand sanitizer be 18 or older, wear masks, remain in their vehicles, and pop the trunk or unlock vehicle doors so sanitizer can be placed in the vehicles.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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