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Temporary school closures can slow but likely won’t stop surge of COVID cases in kids, Texas doctors say

Dozens of schools across the state of Texas have temporarily closed since the start of the school year.

DALLAS — Texas schools went back to class in early August and the Texas Education Agency reported 1,273 public school students tested positive for COVID the first week of the month.

By the last week of August, 27,353 public school students reported new COVID infections.

It’s the highest number of new COVID cases Texas has seen in any week of the pandemic.

“And we still have not peaked,” said Dr. Mark Casanova, a doctor at Baylor Scott and White and past president of the Dallas County Medical Society.

During the first few weeks of school, more than a dozen districts across the state announced temporary closures to try to stop COVID’s spread among students and teachers.

The Texas Education Agency has not yet responded to an inquiry from WFAA asking if the state is tracking the number of campuses that close. 

In some cases, individual campuses have closed. But in other instances, entire districts – with multiple campuses - have taken a few days to a week off.

RELATED: Nearly 25% of students at one Richardson ISD school absent from in-person learning as of Wednesday, officials say

“Temporary pauses can help to stop spread in the moment,” Casanova said. 

“But when individuals re-gather in that same setting, there needs to be implementation of other mitigation factors - such as masking - to prevent an on-off, on-off scenario.”

Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper, current president of Dallas County Medical Society, said closing school can be helpful.

But she said the surge in COVID cases among Texas youth should be alarming for families everywhere.

“That’s really scary right now especially for anybody who is unvaccinated. And, of course, that includes kids under 12,” she said.

Kassanoff-Piper said the increase in cases since the start of school is “evidence that we ought to have masking in classrooms for teachers and students.”

The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics as well as scientists and doctors say masks are an effective tool to stop the spread of COVID infections, especially in indoor environments.

But masks are a point of serious contention in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order banning schools from requiring masks.

Some districts have defied his order and mandated them anyway.

Schools have sued the governor.

Families have sued schools.

The mired mess of litigation has frustrated families, teachers, administrators, and doctors.

RELATED: District court rules that Fort Worth ISD can't require face masks

“Whether you’re vaccinated or not, masking in the classroom definitely can decrease transmission,” Kassanoff-Piper said.

Casanova said you don’t have to look much further than the number of COVID cases the TEA is tracking to see the impact of masks.

During the 2020-2021 school year, when masks were required in most schools, the highest number of weekly COVID cases among students never topped 11,000.

Casanova also said the numbers show the delta variant is harder for unvaccinated children to fight.

“When you implement no protection measures - the fact that we can’t vaccinate children and if we do not have them and teachers and staff mask -  we know invariably what will happen,” he said.