On Tuesday, Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja recommended that area schools return to virtual learning instead of face-to-face instruction.
“The data is becoming adverse for in-person learning. What that means is schools should be preparing for or considering a switch to virtual learning,” Taneja announced at the Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting during his weekly COVID-19 update.
Taneja’s recommendation is not binding but does serve as public health guidance from the county.
The county developed several benchmarks to guide its decision about when to recommend virtual learning: a case rate of 100 positives for every 100,000 residents in a school attendance zone, case trends going up over a four-week period, a hospital bed occupancy rate for COVID-19 above 10 percent, and a positivity test rate of 10 percent or greater over the last week.
He pointed out that Tarrant County saw a low point in September, but that the cases have been increasing in the area over the last four weeks. The county reported 1,148 cases in schools last week, a 33 percent increase when compared to the week before.
“We are in a true uptrend with all indicators pointing up,” Taneja told the commissioners.
“If at all possible, it is better to do virtual learning now than wait for an outbreak to occur,” he added.
Most area schools are allowing families to choose either virtual or in-person learning. Fort Worth Independent School District, the largest in the county, only began in-person learning on October 5 after a contentious meeting to consider extending virtual-learning only for another four weeks.
In July, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court issued a joint control order keeping schools closed to in-person instruction until the end of September, but replaced it with the benchmarks after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued guidance stating that local school officials should make that decision.
“Education of our children is an essential Texas value and there is no current statewide order prohibiting any school from opening,” said Paxton. “While local health authorities may possess some authority to close schools in limited circumstances, they may not issue blanket orders closing all schools on a purely preventative basis. That decision rightfully remains with school system leaders.”
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends in-person instruction where possible.
“The benefits of in-person learning are well-documented, and there is evidence that lengthy time away from school can result in social isolation, learning deficits, and mental health problems,” the organization stated in August.
However, it also notes the level of COVID-19 in a community should be taken into account.
“Ultimately, the decision to re-open schools to in-person learning should be based on the guidance of local and state public health authorities and school administrators.”
As flu season has begun, Taneja also echoed the same recommendations that have been made for the last seven months: wear a mask, stay home if possible, maintain six feet of distance, and avoid large group gatherings.
Recently, Governor Greg Abbott announced more re-openings, including allowing bars to operate at 50 percent capacity, if given the green light from county officials, and other businesses like movie theaters to expand to 75 percent capacity.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.