Is Tyler ISD “safe despite community spread?”

Instead of a significant decrease in virus cases, TISD's numbers are on par with community spread.

Are Tyler schools safe? That’s the question some parents are asking after Tyler ISD sent an email on Thursday, Nov. 12.

The email stated, “You may have seen NET Health’s most recent 7-Day Rolling Rate of COVID-19 shows a significant rise for Smith County placing it on the “Substantial Community Spread Level.” While this may reflect the community situation, we want to assure you it doesn’t reflect what we are seeing in our District and that our facilities remain safe.

Since the beginning of the school year, the rate of District positive cases for students and staff has never reached more than .8% or eight-tenths of one percent.” (Emphasis from the original.)

The problem is that TISD reports out COVID-19 statistics at a district level to Texas Health and Human Services (DSHS) and these numbers do, in fact, roughly match the community situation and do not match the 0.8% reflected in the email.

According to DSHS, TISD has had 281 COVID-19 cases district-wide, as of Nov. 8. TISD’s current spread rate is 37.92, corresponding to a positive rate of .03792%. It is unclear from publicly available information where the TISD number of .8% comes from.

Parents have reasonable cause for concern. Last week, NET Health sounded the alarm that Smith County’s Community Spread rate is now 45.48, (0.04548%)  substantially into the highest “Substantial” range of >= 35.  Mortality statistics for October are the highest on record for the City of Tyler, also by a substantial margin.

TISD tends toward opaqueness with its COVID-19 numbers. The “Tyler ISD Active COVID-19 Case Notification” page lists dates in the last two weeks when each school had at least one positive case. The number of cases each day is not disclosed, nor is historical data. The Tyler Loop has been tracking this data.

For the last month, Oct. 11-Nov. 12, both high schools have had active COVID-19 cases most school days. TISD doesn’t reveal whether the high schools have one case or many cases for each day.  Some middle schools also have significant numbers of days with active cases.  Most of the elementary schools are faring better.

The current TISD rate of 37.92 is similar to the general Smith County rate of 45.48. This reveals the takeaway about Tyler ISD’s COVID-19 rates: based on public data, the school district had an outbreak in mid-October but otherwise has tracked closely with Smith County as a whole.

This is consistent with what data is starting to reveal nationwide.  According to the National COVID-19 School Response dataset, Texas’ case rate for students tracks closely to the wider community from which the students are drawn. 

Staff rates are substantially higher than students or the wider community.  This may mean that vulnerable staff are catching COVID-19 from asymptomatic students.

Source: National COVID-19 School Response, retrieved Nov. 14.

Both TISD’s rate of 37.92 and Smith County’s rate of 45.48 are rated by NET Health as “Substantial Community Spread: Large scale, uncontrolled community transmission, including congregate settings (e.g. schools, workplaces, nursing homes, day cares).”

The bottom line: Are Tyler’s schools safe? No. But only because TISD is a reflection of the community it resides in. Tyler is not safe right now, so neither is TISD.

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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