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Starting Sept. 8, Texas will require school districts to file weekly reports on new COVID-19 cases among students, teachers or staff, state education officials announced Thursday.
School administrators must fill out forms including any new COVID-19 cases their schools were notified of the previous week, whether the cases were contracted on or off campus, and whether the entire campus closed as a result. The reports must include any student, teacher or staff member who participates in any on-campus activity and has been confirmed to have a COVID-19 infection. School districts that began the school year before Sept. 8 must also report all prior positive cases for this year.
The new requirements add an additional task to the plates of school superintendents, who are already required by state law to report the details of each positive COVID-19 case to local health officials. State leaders had previously considered requiring school districts to report confirmed cases within 24 hours.
"We heard loud and clear from our pilot group of superintendents that folks are being pulled in different directions, and we are working to try and minimize duplicate data entry as much as possible with our public health partners," Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents on a call Thursday.
The Texas Education Agency and Department of State Health Services will collaborate on collecting and updating the data, which will be published statewide and sorted by district. As the first public schools began reopening their doors this month, many reported staff members and students who arrived with COVID-19 or caught it in athletic practice.
Public health experts have warned that reopening schools in the fall would undoubtedly result in infections on campus, as Texas' COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths climbed this summer. There is no federal government effort to track all infections in schools, but some researchers are trying to fill the gaps. Some states are tracking such data but not releasing it publicly.
Research shows that children are less likely than adults to suffer severe symptoms of COVID-19, but they still are at risk of becoming sick enough to require admission to intensive care units. And they can transmit the virus to their teachers or families.
Health experts say that transparency from districts and the state is crucial to help parents make decisions about their children and families.