As parents prepare to begin the new school year, albeit virtually to start, and health officials continue to try to make sense of newly-released positive cases that were held back because of a state reporting glitch, there’s a lot of information to take in. Here are today’s bullet points:
- Dallas ISD will start the school year online only;
- Dallas County reports 308 new cases, three additional deaths;
- State procures Wi-Fi hot spots for distance learning;
- Abbott directs TWC to apply for federal Lost Wage Assistance funds.
Dallas ISD Will Start Year Online-Only
Dallas ISD may have been one of the last districts in the area to reveal what the start of school would look like, but Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Thursday that was for good reason: District leaders were waiting to see what the most up-to-date advice from Dallas County health officials would be.
“All the medical professionals were unanimous in their recommendation that there should be no in-person learning on Sept. 8,” he said in an afternoon press conference.
“I have the authority as superintendent without board approval to have virtual learning for the first four weeks of school,” he added. “That is the decision my team has recommended to me and the decision I am officially making. Not everyone is going to be happy with the decision, but it is what it is, and it’s the context we are in.”
Hinojosa said that most of the school board trustees were supportive of the decision, but a couple were not.
“This is not going to be a slam dunk, wherever it goes, when we go for the next month,” Hinojosa said.
The decision allows the district to operate for almost a full month virtually while the county monitors the pandemic’s trends. Hinojosa will need board approval to extend the online-only rule past October, and will have to make the decision on whether to do that before the September school board meeting, where he will need to present it to trustees. The earliest students could go back to school is Oct. 6.
“Even though things are significantly better, there’s not one indicator that says it’s OK to bring students in person.”Dr. Michael Hinojosa
“Until we get directions from them we are going to kind of hold off,” Hinojosa said. “Right now we’re definitely in the red zone. Even though things are significantly better, there’s not one indicator that says it’s OK to bring students in person.”
Teachers will be allowed to work from home until Sept. 17, and after that will mostly be teaching from campus, even if it’s virtually. At the last board briefing, district staff indicated that principals would also have a great deal of autonomy on how long teachers can teach from home.
If trustees approve a second month of virtual-only instruction, the district has the option of phasing in the return of students to campus, too.
“I can guarantee you we won’t be at 100%” because some families will remain virtual only the entire year, Hinojosa said.
The future of fall sports this year is also a question mark.
Friday nights will look a lot different, too, potentially. In-person athletic practices are postponed, and band and drill team activities are in distance settings, Hinojosa said.
“In addition, all extracurricular activities will remain in a distance setting as well, including strength and conditioning, band and drill team, all UIL and visual and performing arts activities,” a district statement explained.
“There’s still a lot of debate on whether we will have football,” Hinojosa said. “We will have to monitor that.”
District 2 Trustee Dustin Marshall said he was notified of the decision a few hours before the press conference was announced.
“He made this decision on his own without consulting with trustees,” Marshall said. “In fact, I only learned of the announcement a few hours before the public did.”
Dallas County Reports 308 New COVID-19 Cases, Three More Deaths
Of the 308 new cases the county reported Thursday, 206 came through the Texas Department of State Health Services’ (DSHS) electronic laboratory reporting system – 172 from June, 32 from July, and two from August.
The additional deaths reported Thursday include a Dallas man in his 30s who didn’t have underlying health conditions, a Mesquite woman in her 60s, and a Dallas man in his 70s.
Of the 846 confirmed deaths reported to date, about 26% have been associated with long-term care facilities.
An additional 41 probable cases have been reported since Wednesday, bringing the total probable case count in Dallas to 2,571, including eight probable deaths from COVID-19.
From August 6 to 14, 227 school-aged children between 5 and 18 years of age were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
More than 3,549 children under 18 years of age have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since July 1, including 66 children who have been hospitalized for COVID-19.
Of all confirmed cases requiring hospitalization to date, more than two-thirds have been under 65 years of age.
“Today we announce three deaths, one of which was a man in his 30s with no underlying conditions, a reminder that COVID-19 is a serious illness for everyone and can be deadly for anyone. We announced 308 cases today including 204 cases from the backlogged cases (June/July) that are being lost in the State’s electronic laboratory reporting system and 104 recent cases,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Thursday. “With the continued problems at the state, if you get tested for COVID-19, it’s very important to follow all CDC guidance and isolate from everyone if you believe you have the virus until you get your test results. If you test positive, you should report the fact that you have COVID-19 to anyone that has been a close contact. Close contacts are defined as anyone you’ve been within six feet of, for 15 minutes or more, with or without masks, from 48 hours before the onset of your first symptom, through the duration of your illness. It’s up to all of us to do all that we can to lower the spread of COVID-19, keep our businesses open and get to a place where our children can return to school. Also, please avoid house parties and gatherings with people outside of your immediate family as studies are showing that home gatherings are an increasing source of spread throughout the country and globe.”
Dallas County reported 445 COVID-19 patients in acute care Wednesday. Additionally, the number of emergency room visits for COVID-19 like symptoms in Dallas County was 486 Wednesday, which represents around 21% of all emergency department visits in the county according to information reported to the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council.
The latest UT Southwestern Medical Center data indicates hospitalizations in North Texas declined 12% compared to one week ago and 30% compared to two weeks ago.
UTSW‘s model projects that total COVID-19 hospitalizations could decline to between 250 and 470 concurrent hospitalized cases by Sept. 1. The model also projects that roughly 430 new COVID-19 infections per day are expected by Sept. 1.
The percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 has been declining but remains high, the county said, with about 14% of symptomatic patients presenting to area hospitals testing positive in week 32.
State Procures Wi-Fi Hot Spots for Distance Learning
Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday announced that the Texas Education Agency, in partnership with local education agencies, has procured more than 1 million personal devices and internet Wi-Fi hotspots as part of the state’s Operation Connectivity initiative.
Financed by a previously announced $200 million allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding that was allocated to the TEA, and matched by school districts across Texas, the procurement effort will ensure that students attending a Texas public school will have both a device and connection to the internet throughout the 2020-21 school year and beyond.
The state said that because it was able to utilize bulk procurement, it saved anywhere from 20% to 40% on the purchase of the devices.
“Securing personal devices and Wi-Fi hotspots will help meet the connectivity needs of students across the state,” said Abbott. “As school districts delay in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year, it is critical that the State of Texas close the digital divide and ensure access to virtual education for students who are learning at home.”
“Governor Abbott’s Operation Connectivity Task Force, co-chaired by Dallas ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, is comprised of many players, including business and education leaders from across Texas,” said TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. “Because of the herculean efforts of our school districts, the nimble response of our Task Force, and the commitment of community-minded corporate partners in Texas, we are significantly narrowing the digital divide in the Lone Star State, faster than anyone thought possible. This work will help millions of Texas children.”
Since March 2020, local education agencies and the TEA have contributed nearly $900 million to help close the connectivity gap among public school students.
Abbott Directs TWC To Apply For Federal Lost Wage Assistance Funds
Abbott Thursday also announced that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) applied for additional unemployment benefit funding made available through President Trump’s Lost Wage Assistance Executive Order. If granted, this funding will provide an additional $300 per week in benefits for qualifying Texans receiving unemployment benefits.
“The Lost Wage Assistance program will provide crucial financial support to Texans who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Abbott. “Texas is grateful to President Trump for making these funds available to individuals and asks that our federal partners quickly grant this request so that TWC can swiftly administer this funding to Texans.”
Signed on Aug. 8, the executive order provides $300 a week in additional unemployment payments to claimants eligible for more than $100 of certain state unemployment benefits who are experiencing unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Claimants currently receiving unemployment through TWC should continue to request payments as normal. Eligible claimants should expect to receive the additional benefits on their first payment request on or after Aug. 23, 2020. These funds will be backdated to the benefit week ending Aug. 1, 2020.
To apply for unemployment benefits or to request payment visit ui.texasworkforce.org. All claimants should keep their mailing and email addresses current in the unemployment benefits services system to prevent delays.