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Tarrant County Health Director recommends schools return to all-virtual learning

Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said due to the rising cases, hospitalization rates, and positivity rates, Tarrant County schools should consider this change.

While bars in Tarrant County may soon reopen, leaders are suggesting that students return to all online learning.

One day after Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley ruled that bars can re-open at 50% capacity on Wednesday, Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja recommended at a commissioners meeting Tuesday that schools start preparing a return to all-virtual learning.

Taneja said due to the rising cases, hospitalization rates and positivity rates, schools should consider making this change.

“We’re seeing a surge in COVID-19 activity in our community,” Taneja said. “We are in a true uptrend with all the indicators pointing up.”

The virus has started to hit their schools too.

"We have 1,148 cases in Tarrant County schools, a 33% increase from the week before," Taneja told the Tarrant County Commissioners during the meeting. "We’ve identified 6,741 contacts in the school setting."

“We had asked people to be cautious about what the data is telling us and now almost four weeks in, almost all the indicators are turning red, so the data is becoming adverse for in-person learning,” Taneja said. “So what that means is schools should be preparing, and considering a switch to virtual learning. Again, it’s not binding by any means, but again that is what the data is showing us so that is our public health guidance.”

RELATED: Tarrant County officials to allow bars to reopen at 50% capacity

Dr. Rajesh Nandy with the UNT Health Science Center has been analyzing COVID trends across North Texas since the start of the pandemic. He said there’s not enough data to suggest a connection between the schools that have re-opened and rising cases, but he is seeing an uptick in COVID in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, and Collin County.

“What is a little bit surprising to me is that the trend we are seeing in North Texas is different from the rest of the state,” Nandy said. “I have looked at a lot of other populous counties across the state and it seems that North Texas counties are standing out and I don’t really have a good explanation why that’s the case but it certainly is real.”

Nandy said a switch to all virtual is the safe play, but he added that the fluctuation in case count is expected.

“This is what I had expected and will expect to continue in the future,” Nandy said. “So my sense is that we will see this type of up and down behaviors here as well and that means we should be very vigilant until there is a vaccine.”

Fort Worth ISD responded in a statement, saying the district is maintaining in-person and virtual learning and the district can switch at any time that it is believed to be in the best interest of the students and employees.

"We are very aware of the extent of the virus in our community," the district said. "Since October 5 we have had a live student and staff COVID report on our website to help families make important decisions."

Arlington ISD also released a statement, saying that the district has engaged with public health officials.

"Learning this news today, we will continue to consult with our local health experts to review all of our safety protocols to ensure individuals on our campuses are as safe as possible," the district said.

Both Taneja and Nandy agree that there are many factors that are playing a role in the increased cases.

“The economy is open, schools are open, colleges are open, sporting events are happening, school athletic events are happening,” Taneja said. 

And that’s why he recommends schools keep a close eye on the data.

“All we’re asking is that they be very, very prepared, because the data is showing in our community that things are not conducive for in-person learning,” Taneja said.