COVID-19 explodes in Tyler ISD

This story has been updated to include data from the school week of August 30-September 3.

NOTE: Northeast Texas can put COVID-19 behind us in about six weeks if everyone gets vaccinated and masks indoors. The ongoing pandemic is now a human-made crisis which we have the means to end.

COVID-19 is exploding across Tyler Independent School District with more cases just since the start of school than in all of last year. District school board policies are out of compliance with NET Health Resolution R-2021-1 and the guidelines of the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Pediatric Society, the CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

On TISD campuses, if students or staff test positive for COVID-19, “Current guidelines and protocols allow students to continue attending classes on campus if they do not have symptoms.

During the 2020-2021 school year, TISD’s COVID-19 cases notification page — now inactive —  recorded 386 campus days with at least one case of active COVID-19 on campuses within the district. Since the start of this school year, TISD’s Active COVID-19 Dashboard has already recorded 593 cases.

The following TISD campuses all reported double-digit outbreaks on the dashboard this week:

  • Tyler High School (46 Total)
  • Tyler Legacy High School (76 Total)
  • Boulter Middle School (23 Total)
  • Hubbard Middle School (45 Total)
  • Three Lakes Middle School (48 Total)
  • Moore Middle School (28 Total)
  • Caldwell Arts Academy (24 Total)
  • Clarkston Elementary School (27 Total)
  • Dixie Elementary School (23 Total)
  • Jack Elementary School (42 Total)
  • Owens Elementary School (22 Total)
  • Rice Elementary School (39 Total)
  • Woods Elementary School (39 Total)

Many other campuses are showing smaller “seed” outbreaks this week similar to what these schools showed last week.  After two weeks, every TISD campus without exception has reported at least one case.

TISD has eschewed a mask mandate.  Social media posts of parents report risky practices: Most staff and children unmasked and social distancing largely ignored.  

To date, children under 12 do not qualify for vaccination. Further, only 3,017 children ages 12-15 have been vaccinated in Smith County.

As the new school year began, the 2021 TISD website was scrubbed of all COVID-19 references and conveyed a “back to normal” message. Parents were not notified when their child was exposed to a disease — one that has taken the lives of 64 Texas children.  

However, the Texas Education Agency reiterated that notifications are mandatory, leading to the TISD Active COVID-19 Dashboard and some other COVID-19 safety messaging creeping back onto the site.

Dr. Tom Cummins, Chief Medical Officer for UT Health East Texas, says schools need to follow CDC guidelines. “Parents, insist that your children wear masks. Lobby your school board to mandate masks. If your children are 12 or up, get them vaccinated,” Cummins said. TEA’s updated guidance permits mask mandates.

While relatively few children are requiring hospitalization yet, Tyler’s hospitals are overloaded with COVID-19 patients. 

On June 20, Trauma Service Area G, which encompasses Tyler and surrounding counties, had a meager 2.05% hospitalization rate. As of September 6, Area G reported a staggering hospitalization rate of 29.23% — the highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Those figures continue to grow at about a third of a percent a day. 

Christus Trinity Mother Frances has a neonatal intensive care unit for babies, but Tyler lacks a facility with pediatric ICU beds. Critically ill children will need to be transferred to a pediatric hospital. Usually children from Tyler are sent to Dallas, but in-state pediatric hospitals are full. Future transfers may be to out of state facilities.

Cummins summarized his advice. “One, get vaccinated! Two, wear your masks! Three, avoid crowds, including high school football games and band events.”

The Tyler Loop reached out to TISD with questions for this article, but they declined comment.

Stephen Fierbaugh was lead IT Project Manager for a large hospital ship being built in China. Now, he’s looking for new places to serve. Are these statistics helpful? Would you like to see similar information for your city or organization? Stephen has his Masters in Intercultural Studies with a focus on ICT4D (technology) and is PMI certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP). Check out his LinkedIn for more examples of his skills and experience.

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