According to the latest data, schools with mask mandates have an average COVID-19 positivity rate about one percent lower than schools without mandates.
The state collects coronavirus data from every independent school district (ISD) and charter school in the state. The most recent report accumulates data from the beginning of the school year to the week ending November 14.
The Texan sorted this report between schools with mandates and schools without a mandate using the state attorney general’s list of ISDs and charters that require masks, updated and checked with information from the districts’ websites. There are an estimated 60 school districts, including charter networks, that kept a mask requirement up to November 14, leaving about 1,145 districts without a mandate.
Since the beginning of the school year, 2.4 percent of students at these schools have tested positive for COVID-19. By comparison, 3.2 percent of students have tested positive at schools without mask mandates.
This infection rate gap of 0.88 percent is marginally smaller than the 1.04 percent gap previously measured using data ending in late September.
Furthermore, the same reports show that student and staff infection rates have both dropped steadily since early September. The share of new student cases for the latest reporting period is appreciably lower than in previous weeks.
Irregularities in both the attorney general’s list and the state’s data may affect the numbers.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton no longer keeps an updated list of schools with mask mandates. The Texan used the most recent archived version of the attorney general’s list and verified it with district websites, straining out several districts that had dropped their mandates before November 14.
Furthermore, to protect student privacy, the state hides infection data for very small districts. This practice, combined with delays and errors in reports at the local level, creates a disparity between the state’s total infections tally and the sum of all infections in the collected local report. Across Texas, the DSHS counts 220,249 cumulative positive student cases, while the collected local report only includes a little more than 161,000 students.
Altogether, Texas public schools educate more than 5.3 million kids, meaning the state education system has a cumulative student positivity rate of 4.12 percent.
Since measurement began, 112 Texans under the age of 20 have died with COVID-19 — about 0.16 percent of the state’s total death count.
Litigation over government mask mandates has been proceeding in both state and federal court in Texas for months. After a wave of school districts decided to defy Governor Greg Abbott’s prohibition on mask mandates around the beginning of this school year, Paxton sued several of them with varying success. So far, he has won initial victories in most cases that have reached the Supreme Court of Texas, nabbing stay orders that prevent the districts from requiring masks for now. However, none of these lawsuits have been finally resolved yet. Some challenge the constitutionality of the Texas Disaster Act, the same law that allowed Abbott to issue a statewide mask mandate last July.
The major challenge to Abbott’s mask mandate ban in federal court comes from an advocacy group called Disability Rights Texas that sued the state on behalf of several children with disabilities or fragile immune systems. The group won an injunction at district court after the judge ruled that Abbott’s prohibition ran afoul of the American Rescue Plan Act and could prevent these children from safely attending school. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned this injunction, restoring Abbott’s prohibition on school mask mandates.
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