Hinojosa Gives Hint On Potential Fall Plan B

The day after Dallas County saw its largest number of new cases of the novel coronavirus, the state’s stay-at-home order has expired and the first phase of Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to restart the state’s economy begins. Here are the bullet points you need today:

  • Hinojosa gives hint on potential Fall Plan B
  • As some businesses set to reopen, Dallas looks at public spaces
  • Abbott issues explainer on unemployment benefits
  • Dallas ISD’s Family & Community Engagement team personally delivers to families

Hinojosa Gives Hint On Potential Fall Plan B for District

As the school year winds to an end, many school districts are now keeping an eye – and making tentative alternative plans for – on the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread through the summer.

After all, it’s in the name – novel coronavirus, meaning brand-new coronavirus that we’re all still learning about. Could we see a second wave of cases by the fall, when schools reopen? Will the virus really slow down its progression during the summer? Will reopening businesses, as many states are doing, cause a sustained spike in cases?

A recent Washington Post article examines the issue. As it stands, most of the districts interviewed for the story said that their first plan was that everyone goes back to school as normal in August.

But nearly all said they had some kind of Plan B – including Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, who said that next fall – if the case numbers are still at an uncomfortable level, district schools could see things like one-way hallways, mandatory masks, lunch in classrooms, buses with fewer children on them, and temperature checks before entering the building.

“Our students need some kind of normalcy.”-  Michael Hinojosa

“Our students need some kind of normalcy,” Hinojosa told the Post. “Right now, their whole world has been disrupted with things that they’ve never dealt with before, and they need to be around other people.”

And while he said Plan A is still for school to open Aug. 15 and everything to operate as it always has, he thinks that may not happen.

“So he’s considering a schedule in which some students attend school in person on Mondays and Wednesdays and others on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with everyone remote on Fridays,” the story said. “He said lunches would probably need to be in classrooms to avoid large groups, and he is reconsidering sports.”

Sports may be the real sticking point. While some have minimal contact, many of the most popular are nothing but contact. Hinojosa indicated that he may – although it likely depends on the University Interscholastic League – consider pushing the football season back since a decision will need to be made before summer practices begin in July.

Hinojosa’s deliberations also align with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention draft document obtained by several news outlets. That document – which could still be revised by the Trump administration – recommends placing desks 6 feet apart and keeping groups of children together with no intermingling to reduce the risk of transmission. This would be accomplished by eliminating field trips and school assemblies and having students eat in their classrooms instead of the cafeteria.

However, since Texas Education Agency guidelines put minimum classroom sizes at anywhere from 700 square feet per classroom to 800 square feet, placing children 6 feet apart would leave schools short of space – which is why many are considering a schedule that would have students in classrooms part-time, and learning at home the rest of the time.

As Some Businesses Set to Reopen, Dallas Looks at Public Spaces

The state’s stay-at-home order expired at midnight, and ever since Gov. Greg Abbott announced that some businesses would be able to reopen – albeit with restrictions – the announcements from local eateries and retailers have been rolling in.

On Thursday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson held a press conference to outline the city’s next steps, saying his job now is to ensure Abbott’s plan is a success.

“In this case being successful means saving lives and restoring livelihoods,” he said.

But when asked about the substantial increase in positive cases in Dallas County this week, Johnson said more testing would be vital to being able to pull off Abbott’s soft reopen.

“We’ve still only tested about 1% of the population of Dallas County and that is, simply put, inadequate,” he said. “We have to continue to push for more testing and more tools for local governments to succeed. We at the city are on the front lines of this pandemic and we must be able to identify cases rapidly to keep people from spreading the virus.”

“We will get through this, that’s for sure, but we cannot let down our guard,” he added.

Johnson also said that, as of today, you can golf in public courses and play tennis at the city’s tennis courts. The Elm Fork Shooting Range will also reopen today.

All of those facilities, however, will have restrictions.

Golf Courses
• Allow only one golfer per cart unless the other rider is a child aged 10 or under
• Restrict tee time reservations to online or by phone only – no walkups
• Restrict tee times to group sizes of foursomes (four players at a time) only
• Restrict access to the pro shops to pro shop staff only and no more than four customers at a time
• Golf pros will clean and sanitize carts after each rental and before being checked out

Tennis Centers
• Restrict access to the pro shop to no more than two players at a time
• Pros will clean and sanitize rental equipment between users

Elm Fork Gun Range 
• Place 6’ markings for points where lines form
• Open only every other shooting lane for rental – providing for greater than 6’ of distancing
• Remove group seating areas
• Allow for call-in food orders only

Outdoor Programs 
• Provide a minimum of 12′ between participants with clearly identified workout locations
• Ensure equipment is wiped down and sanitized after each user and before issuing to the next participant

City officials are also looking at a plan to reopen the Dallas Zoo and the Dallas Arboretum, Johnson said. While libraries were given the OK to reopen by Abbott, Johnson said the city’s libraries were not ready to do so safely.

“I repeat, we are going to reopen them safely,” he said.

As the city streamed Johnson’s press conference on Facebook, however, some viewers expressed skepticism.

“I don’t care what the governor says. These COVID cases are going hit the ceiling in a few days,” one person said.

“It’s all about money, folks. That’s why we are pushed to reopen. I don’t like it, either, but I’m sure that’s the first and foremost reason,” said another.

“We’re being dumped into the frying pan, and the powers that be want us to pretend that there is no fire underneath. Wow,”  another said.

We’ve talked about what won’t be open already, but both the Dallas Galleria and NorthPark Center have indicated that they will open, with some restrictions. Some restaurants will open today, while others are holding off. Here’s what you need to know if you do choose to dine-in today.

And as Abbott announced Monday, state parks will be open for day trips, with some restrictions as well. Places that won’t be open? Let’s just say don’t plan a day trip to Austin – tours of the Governor’s Mansion and Capitol are still not in the cards.

“No guided tours will be given at the Capitol, Capitol Visitors Center, Governor’s Mansion or State Cemetery for the immediate future,” Elizabeth Garzone, with the State Preservation Board’s visitor services department said. “These sites will eventually reopen to the public and tours may be modified.”

Abbott Issues Explainer on Unemployment Benefits

As businesses reopen, some who had been collecting unemployment have been asking – what happens if you don’t feel safe coming back to work, or if you don’t have childcare to do so?

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has issued new guidance to unemployment claimants concerning their eligibility for unemployment benefits should they choose not to return to work at this time because of COVID-19.

Image courtesy Texas Workforce Commission.

Under this guidance, Texans can continue to receive unemployment benefits throughout the COVID-19 response if they choose not to return to work for certain reasons as specified by TWC.

“As the Lone Star State begins the process of safely and strategically opening the economy, our top priority is protecting the health and safety of all Texans — especially those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Abbott. “This flexibility in the unemployment benefit process will help ensure that Texans with certain health and safety concerns will not be penalized for choosing not to return to work.”

Reasons accepted by the TWC include:

  • At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Diagnosed with COVID-19: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the state of Texas and is not recovered.
  • Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the state of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
  • Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
  • Child care: Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.

Any other situation will be subject to a case-by-case review by TWC based on individual circumstances, Abbott’s office said.

Dallas ISD’s Family & Community Engagement Team Personally Delivers to Families
Photo courtesy Dallas ISD

Members of the Dallas ISD Family & Community Engagement team have been voluntarily going into the community for the past three weeks to personally deliver gift cards and care packages to Dallas ISD families impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

The Dallas Mavericks donated 200 $50 Kroger gift cards, and the community donated about another 100 gift cards. Campuses identified families who had been impacted by COVID-19, whether it be from loss of job or reduction in hours, to receive the gift cards.

Along with the gift cards, the Parent Advocacy and Support Services Department has been distributing a larger care package that also includes hand sanitizer, a water bottle, and Census information with coloring books and crayons.

“We are using best practices for social distancing, but we know we have to get these resources to our families,” said parent advocacy and support services executive director Liliana Valadez. “We are here to serve.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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