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Unable to mandate masks, Dallas ISD and state agencies offer rapid COVID testing and recommend vaccines

"It's just another layering strategy to keep the environment as safe as possible during the pandemic," said Jennifer Finley, of Dallas ISD's rapid testing plan.

DALLAS — While Texas public schools cannot legally issue their own mask-wearing mandates, the Department of State Health Services and districts, like Dallas ISD, are doing what they can in other ways to return students safely to school.

This year, Dallas ISD will offer free rapid COVID testing at every campus for both staff and for students under 18, whose parents have offered written permission. The permission form can be found here on the district website.

Dallas ISD said the testing will enable the district to screen for COVID every day for students or staff who suggest they are not feeling well. 

"And it is absolutely of no charge," said Jennifer Finley, Dallas ISD's director of health services. 

"It's just another layering strategy to keep the environment as safe as possible during the pandemic," she said. 

While Dallas ISD cannot require students or staff to wear masks, they do recommend masks. The district will also make PPE available to any student or staff member that wants them. 

This weekend, the Texas Department of State Health Services is increasing its campaign for students over the age of 12 to consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine. It will sponsor a Saturday and Sunday event from noon to 4 p.m. at the Walmart located at 200 Short Boulevard in southern Dallas. 

A 16-foot-tall video wall in the store parking lot will play DSHS' public service announcements from medical experts in English and Spanish "discussing the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine and reasons for everyone 12 years and older to get it as soon as possible." 

The event will also offer free treats and family games both days.

"I've done it for myself, my children, my father who is in his 80s has gotten this vaccine," said Dallas pediatrician Kay Jarrett. She is featured in the DSHS public service announcements, along with her vaccinated teenage daughters. 

"We really need to try to keep our community and our family and friends safe," said Jarrett. 

"I highly recommend getting this vaccine. It really will save our lives," she continued. She works at Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic.

"When parents ask me if they should get their children vaccinated for COVID-19, I recommend that they get that child the vaccine," said Dr. Van Ramshorst with Children's Health.

"It's a personal choice. Discuss it as a family," Finley said. "But most definitely each shot in every arm that we can get, it will help us get closer to that herd immunity so we can get through this pandemic."