Less than 1% of Texas students who returned to public school in person have tested positive for COVID-19

Students draw self-portraits in a kindergarten class on the first day of in-person classes at Highland Village Elementary.                    Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune
Students draw self-portraits in a kindergarten class on the first day of in-person classes at Highland Village Elementary. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

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More than 2,300 Texas public school students, 0.21% of those who have returned to school in person since the beginning of this academic year, have reported testing positive for COVID-19, according to a dashboard the state will release Thursday in a first effort to publicly track the way the pandemic is impacting public schools.

The Texas Department of State Health Services and Texas Education Agency are expected to begin releasing the weekly number of coronavirus cases in each school district starting next Wednesday.

Of about 5.5 million public school students in Texas, 1,101,065 have returned to school in person or are participating in activities on campus grounds. At least 2,344 of those have reported testing positive for COVID-19 as of this past Sunday, according to the dashboard.

The data also shows 2,175 school employees who have come back to school in person reported testing positive for COVID-19. Texas has not tabulated the total number of employees who have returned to schools in person. It is less than 800,078, the total number employed by public schools, including teachers, contractors, and support staff.

School administrators must now fill out forms each week reporting 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.

The total number of infections school districts are reporting is likely an undercount. Neither the federal nor state governments require or recommend universal testing in schools, in part because large-scale testing is still not feasible. Many of Texas' biggest districts will not require testing of anyone at any point.

State guidelines say schools must instruct individuals who know or suspect they have COVID-19 to stay at home through the 14-day incubation period. But they can return to campus without being tested if they show improvement.