Aug 7, 2021 - Health

Texas schools not required to do contact tracing, new guidance says

Picture of a custodial worker deep cleaning a classroom
A custodial worker operates an electrostatic machine to clean a classroom at an elementary school in Leander, Texas. Photo: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Texas schools are not required to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing in the event that an individual tests positive, according to new guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

State of play: Schools are required to report positive cases to their local health departments, but the TEA said contract tracing is not required because data suggested that transmission rates in classrooms and between children are low.

  • While the TEA does not specifically say that schools are required to inform parents that their student has been in close contact, the agency says that school systems "should" notify parents.
  • Parents can decide whether they want to keep their students at home during the recommended period if they have been in close contact with someone who has the virus.

Details: Schools cannot require students or staff to wear masks, the TEA said, citing an executive order. However, they must allow people to wear masks if they choose to do so.

  • Schools are allowed to conduct "recurring" testing with rapid tests provided by the state. Parents must give their written permission for students to get tested.
  • Schools "must" exclude students from attending if they have tested positive.

For students who test positive, schools can offer remote learning for up to 20 days. They must apply for waivers if more time is necessary.

  • Long-term remote learning has been defunded in the state since it was offered at the beginning of the pandemic, the Texas Tribune reports.

Reactions: "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.
  • "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," Kaplan added.

By the numbers: Texas has reported a total of 2,706,267 confirmed cases, with 8,833 new cases reported on Friday, according to state government data.

  • Cases in the state have been increasing since around early July.
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