Amid Delta variant spread, pediatricians worry about back-to-school guidelines

Coronavirus

TEA releases updated COVID-19 guidelines ahead of 2021-22 school year, leaving some doctors concerned.

TEXAS (KAMR/KCIT) – The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has stated that school districts in Texas will not be required to conduct contact tracing this year for students who contract COVID-19, in its newly released guidelines. This, and other protocols in the release, have gained concerned reactions from healthcare professionals who say the state has not adjusted for the current conditions of the pandemic.

The new guidelines released by the TEA on Thursday addressed on-campus instruction, non-UIL extracurricular sports and activities, and “any other activities that students must complete” during the upcoming school year.

While schools are still required to report positive cases of COVID-19 to local health departments, the TEA said that contact tracing is not required because earlier data from 2020-2021 showed “very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting” and, “lower transmission rates among children than adults.”

Schools were not specifically required to inform parents if a student was in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, but the TEA said that parents “should” be notified. If notified of close contact, parents would be able to decide whether or not to keep their students at home for the recommended quarantine time.

Because of Governor Abbott’s GA-38 from late July, the TEA said that schools cannot require students or staff to wear masks. However, those who choose to do so must be allowed. With written permission from parents, schools are also allowed to give “recurring” rapid COVID-19 tests provided by the state.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, schools “must” exclude students from attending class. Schools can offer remote learning for up to 20 days to those positive or exposed, with wavers applied if more time is needed. However, long-term remote learning is no longer funded by the state, according to the Texas Tribune.

These guidelines have sown concerned reactions from healthcare professionals across the state, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly.

“We’re going to find that the transmission rate in schools is going to be much higher with the Delta variant and it’s absolutely imperative that people get back to masking,” Marc Mazade, medical director of infection prevention at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth, Texas, told the Texas Tribune.

“Our concern right now is that we’re being given guidelines based on old conditions, but we’re not adjusting for what the current conditions are,” Seth Kaplan, president of the Texas Pediatric Society and a Frisco-based pediatrician, told the Tribune. Later, he added, “We no longer have universal masking, and we have a much more contagious variant of virus. … Not doing contact tracing is based on the old rules of the game.”

The sentiments of those doctors echoed the feelings of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s Dr. Todd Bell, who said during the most recent COVID-19 briefing from the City of Amarillo that he expected a further increase in the COVID-19 rates after the oncoming start of school.

In the Amarillo area, as of Aug. 4, there was an average of 129 new cases of COVID-19 per day, with the Delta variant now the dominant strain. The staffing shortage and nearly full hospital capacity has already left those in need of medical care in Amarillo or Lubbock waiting “quite awhile” for a bed. No RAC nursing staff will be coming from the state, unlike during the worst spikes of the virus in 2020, leaving some patients already turned away from service in the Yellow City altogether.

Healthcare professionals and city leaders in the Amarillo area continue to encourage social distancing, mask wearing, proper hygiene, and vaccination to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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