The rapidly spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus has shaken the holiday season for many Texans and forced thousands of flights to be canceled.
It has also prompted school districts in the Northeast and Midwest to take measures such as limiting winter sports activities and temporarily returning to distance learning, although this is not the case in Texas. , where the state government has banned school districts from requiring teachers and students to be vaccinated or wear masks. (Many districts are defying the mask warrant ban.) For now, schools are largely sticking to what they have already done to control the spread of the virus.
Most of Texas’ roughly 1,200 school districts will welcome students and staff again over the next week, even as other states grapple with whether to force vaccines on teachers and staff or even revert to distance learning. Nearly one in 4 COVID tests in Texan returns positive for the virus, and hospitalizations are up by 1,613 patients from a week ago. As of December 28, 4,917 Texans were hospitalized for the coronavirus.
As of Wednesday, 220 Texans under the age of 18 were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. This number has been increasing since Christmas. Texas saw the most people under the age of 18 hospitalized with COVID-19 in early September, when it was 345.
The omicron variant has surged across the United States. So far, it has generally been less severe and fatal than the previous delta variant. However, the federal government recommends that all children 5 years of age or older get immunized.
At the Cook Children’s Health Care System in Tarrant County, positive cases in children have risen sharply since December 21 – from a positivity rate of 5.7% to 22.1%. “We are seeing over 400 positive cases of COVID-19 in children per day,” Dr Mary Suzanne Whitworth said in a statement. âThis is similar to where we were in early September when the delta was expanding rapidly in our area. “
Despite these numbers, education officials have widely urged a return to regular in-person education, with precautions in place.
Superintendent Millard House II of the Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest, announced on Wednesday that he would maintain his mask tenure and start offering free COVID-19 testing for students and staff.
âWe look forward to adding this layer of protection to our COVID-19 mitigation strategies,â House said in a statement. âWe remain committed to keeping our students and staff safe and to working to implement strategies that can help us continue to provide safe and sustainable in-person education. “
In Austin, the school district will continue to require masks on campus and will offer student and staff testing and vaccination clinics for anyone 5 years and older.
In an email sent to parents in Austin, district administrators said they are keeping schools open because they believe mitigation strategies are working and because vaccines are now widely available.
âOur layered protocols work! We have been here before. We can do it. Our children need schools to stay open, âwrote Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde in the email.
She added that the Austin ISD will continue to distance itself socially, serving lunches outside and using its advanced air filtration system to slow the spread.
In San Antonio, Northside ISD will continue to follow COVID-19 protocols it established earlier this year, such as allowing nurses to test students and follow quarantine protocols for those who have tested positive.
For Fort Worth ISD, the plan is to open normally, unless directed otherwise by local or state officials. Throughout next week, the district will look to strengthen its pandemic protocols, such as making masks and hand sanitizer available on all campuses. The neighborhood is also deep cleaning its buildings, disinfecting areas where children are most likely to touch, such as water fountains, table tops, doorknobs and their classrooms.
“It’s a big effort,” said Claudia Garibay, spokesperson for Fort Worth ISD.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a a non-partisan, member-backed newsroom educating and engaging Texans about politics and state politics.