TISD had 675 COVID-19 cases last school year with masks. How many next year without masks?

NOTE: Northeast Texas can put COVID-19 behind us in about 6 weeks if everyone gets vaccinated and masks indoors. The ongoing pandemic is now a human-made crisis which we have the means to end.

Tyler Independent School District had 675 instances during the 2020-2021 school year wherein staff or students participated in on-campus activities and had lab-confirmed COVID-19.

That’s from Tyler ISD’s own reporting to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). 430 of the cases were students; 245 were staff.  33 of the staff participated in activities at more than one campus. This was with a mask mandate and before the Delta variant.

For the coming school year, TISD’s plan puts responsibility on parents: “Any individual identified as a close contact to a COVID positive case should monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for the next 10 days and see medical advice and/or COVID testing if symptoms develop.” Despite Texas Medical Association & CDC guidelines, the plan does not include 14 days of isolation for anyone exposed to an active school case.

During the last school year, would you have known if your child shared a classroom with someone infected with COVID-19?  What if it were their teacher?  What if it were someone sitting at the same table?

Chances are you wouldn’t. TISD concluded that no transmission was possible in most cases, because everyone was required to be masked. This year, masks are deprecated. Additionally, the Texas Education Agency, controlled by appointees of Governor Abbott, has determined that contact tracing and parental notification are not required this school year.

Meanwhile, The Dallas Morning News said Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa defied Abbott’s orders against mask mandates, requiring staff and students to wear masks on campus this year. Houston ISD is considering following suit.

Last school year, TISD was required to inform parents when their child was exposed to someone with COVID-19. Notifications were posted on a web-page which is no longer active. It did not post totals, campus counts, grade levels, classroom or any other details.  The district only posted the date that at least a single case of COVID-19 was on campus. After two weeks, each notification was removed.

The Tyler Loop kept track of the notification web page. Out of 133 instruction days between October 11, 2020 and May 26, 2021, TISD reported 386 campus days when one or more cases of COVID-19 were present. Every TISD campus  had at least four separate days where there was a COVID-19 case on campus, and the majority of school campuses reported 10 or more separate days with COVID-19 on campus.

Given the discrepancy between the notification page to parents (386) and the higher number (675) reported to DSHS, it appears that each campus outbreak averaged about two cases.

These numbers are likely vast undercounts. Children are generally only tested when they are seriously ill or have classic COVID-19 symptoms, but they are often asymptomatic or have milder symptoms even while being contagious.

In Tyler ISD’s Return to School 2021 health and safety protocols, Superintendent Marty Crawford says, “We completed the 2020-2021 school year approximately 99% in-person, with many of our students and staff healthy throughout the year.” While many were healthy, 675 were ill with a disease which has already killed 57 Texas children.

TISD’s plan does not follow the guidelines of the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Pediatric Society, the CDC, or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):

  1. Schools should reopen because the best place for children is in school.
  2. All eligible individuals should receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
  3. All students and staff should wear face masks at school.
  4. School policies should be adjusted as situations change.

Neighboring districts a week into the new school year already have cause for alarm. Garland ISD, a school district about 2.5 times that of Tyler ISD, has been in school one week and have 72 reported cases. According to their school website, the district had 256 cases prior to the start of school.

Superintendent Crawford concluded his Return To School 2021 letter, “We have the experience and expertise to implement tighter health protocols if needed in the future, and we are positioned to do so at a moment’s notice.” 

Since he wrote those words, Delta has arrived in Smith County, Tyler’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate has risen 650% and NET Health once again says there is “Large scale, uncontrolled, community transmission, including congregate settings (e.g. schools).”  

Will TISD adapt to keep students and staff safe during rapidly worsening conditions?

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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