Public schools across the state report positive COVID-19 cases to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the DSHS releases the data in reports every week. According to the most recent report, school districts and charters that have implemented mask mandates have seen smaller shares of students test positive.
The Texan culled schools with mask mandates from the statewide spreadsheet of local data using the attorney general’s list of public entities currently requiring masks in defiance of Governor Greg Abbott’s order. 96 charters and districts require masks and about 1,120 do not.
From the beginning of this school year to the end of September, 1.89 percent of students at schools with mask mandates have tested positive, compared to 2.93 percent of students at schools without mask mandates. Schools with mandates serve about 1.8 million students, and schools without mandates serve about 3.4 million.
Schools without mandates also report a greater share of cases that originate on campus. Out of the total number of kids enrolled in schools without mask rules, 0.21 percent of positive cases were traced to a source on campus, compared to 0.11 percent of school-born cases among students under a mandate.
The numbers come with some caveats.
First, to ensure students’ privacy, the state hides low case counts at districts with small enrollment but includes them in the overall tally. Combined with irregularities and delays in self-reporting, this creates a discrepancy between the overall case count and the sum of local case counts in the state database. The state’s overall dashboard counts 172,275 cumulative cases out of the 5.3 million students in Texas public schools, or about 3.2 percent. The sum of all positive cases in the spreadsheet of local data yields a lower total tally.
Second, not all of the schools on the attorney general’s list have applied a mask mandate evenly from the beginning of the year to the end of September. Recent court orders have ended mask mandates at several districts, and others instituted their mandates well after the year began.
Third, many of the schools with mask mandates are in urban areas, which tend to have higher vaccination rates than less populated areas.
Although the school year is young, overall numbers show encouraging trends. Case trends for both students and staff in Texas public schools have steadily dropped throughout September.
Furthermore, ample research shows that children are at little risk of death from COVID-19. According to state data, 88 Texans under the age of 20 have died with the disease, accounting for 0.14 percent of the state’s total fatality count. Out of the 700,952 Americans that have died with COVID-19, the federal government reports that 499 of them were under the age of 18. Fewer children under the age of 15 died in 2020 than in prior years, even after accounting for coronavirus deaths.
The federal government is currently investigating the Texas Education Agency over whether the prohibition against mask mandates counts as discrimination against students with disabilities that could make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
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