Just 53% of Texans aged 12 and older are vaccinated, and it shows. “We are about 90% more cases this week than we were even last week, and almost 10 times as high as we were just a month ago,” said chief state epidemiologist Jennifer Shuford. In North Texas, COVID-19 hospitalization rates are up nearly 300% over the past month.
It’s in that context—and with all children under 12 unvaccinated—that Abbott has blocked school mask mandates, one of the key tools for slowing the spread of coronavirus. But it’s like Texas officials looked at that and thought, “Sure, but can we do anything else to ensure that the virus spreads more quickly in schools?”
According to new guidance from the Texas Education Agency, schools now don’t have to let parents know if there’s been a case of COVID at the school. They don’t have to contact trace. And if they do contact trace, they don’t have to keep close contacts of positive cases out of school for a quarantine period—it’s up to parents whether to do that.
Elementary schools in Texas are required by law to notify parents if someone in their child’s classroom has lice. But COVID-19? Nah.
CDC guidelines for safe in-person learning include vaccination for those who are eligible, universal indoor masking, at least three feet of distance between students, screening testing to quickly identify cases, ventilation, hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, and cleaning and disinfection.
Texas officials have looked at that list and knocked off vaccination, masking, and contact tracing. What’s next—requiring that schools share desks? Banning hand-washing? Requiring each child to cough directly in the face of at least two of their classmates every day?
The rationale for so many policies involving children and COVID-19 has been that kids haven’t gotten as seriously sick at rates as high as adults. Texas is determined to put that to the test.