Texas Paper Editorial Board Urges State Not to Hide School COVID Infections As U.S. Sees 90% Rise in Cases Among Kids

The Dallas Morning News' editorial board on Tuesday called for transparency in reporting novel coronavirus infections in schools once the fall semester begins.

The paper said the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the state's public school systems, and the Texas Department of State Health Services are currently deciding if they will gather the data and share it with the public.

"The answer should be an emphatic 'yes,' on both counts," the editorial board wrote. "The last thing schools need is too little information about the spread of the coronavirus in classrooms."

The editorial said that information on the specific areas in which students are diagnosed will help schools throughout the state determine whether or not it is safe to hold classes for in-person instruction.

Remote teaching
A second grade teacher at St. Francis School teaches online in her empty classroom on April 15, 2020 in Goshen, Kentucky. In Texas, the Dallas Morning News' editorial board on Tuesday called for state health and education officials to make information on COVID-19 infections in schools publicly available once the school year begins. Andy Lyons/Getty

The threats COVID-19 infections pose to different segments of the population has changed significantly since the World Health Organization first declared the virus a pandemic in March. Though federal officials initially said children were not at great risk of infecting other people or significantly suffering from COVID-19 infections themselves, scientific data on both points shifted as researchers had more infections at their disposal to study.

In a report the editorial referenced that was published by the American Association of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, researchers found that health officials throughout the country reported a total of 179,990 new COVID-19 infections between July 9 and August 6. The number marks a 90 percent increase in new child infections in the U.S. during that time, according to the report.

The editorial pointed out that, while many states reported a breakdown of the ages of children with COVID-19, health officials in Texas only did so for 8 percent of the state's childhood cases.

The editorial board said it wants to see more transparency when it comes to confirmed cases in schools. "Having granular data publicly available allows parents, schools and teachers to make measured and informed decisions about the safety of classrooms," the editorial said.

According to state data updated on Monday, August 10, health officials reported a total of 490,817 cases and 8,490 deaths. Dallas County had the second greatest number of infections in the state by that date, with 54,674 cases reported.

Texas is one of several states that reported skyrocketing infection numbers in June, causing Governor Greg Abbott to backtrack some reopening efforts. Despite the state and the country as a whole reporting record numbers of new infections in July, federal officials recommended all schools find ways to reopen for in-person instruction for the fall semester.

As debates over when and how to reopen schools continued, Texas Attorney General Dan Paxton issued guidance for the state's schools that said local health officials have "limited" authority in determining school closures, broadly leaving reopening decisions to individual school districts.

The Texas Education Agency released its own guidance for schools earlier this month that said children who test positive should be isolated from the school until they recover and listed other preventative measures that schools are either required or recommended to take based on which district they operate within. Though the agency said it was necessary to weigh the risks of the pandemic with children's educational needs, it said there would "almost certainly be situations" in which schools must close due to new outbreaks among students or within their surrounding communities. Parents are allowed to request virtual instruction for their students in schools where such options exist, the agency's guidelines added.

With researchers and federal officials predicting a vaccine is still months away at the earliest, the paper's editorial said children "can't wait" for its approval to return to their classrooms, despite the difficulties the contagious virus continues to present.

"The challenges are manageable, but only if we rely on accurate, transparent data to guide us toward the best choices," the editorial concluded.