Plummeting cases of COVID-19 in Galveston County schools have mirrored dropping case rates in the larger community, leading some districts to change pandemic-related protocols, including allowing parents back into campus buildings. Others are considering relaxing mask requirements.
In most districts, less than 0.2 percent of students have COVID. For example, only six Texas City students, eight Galveston students, four Santa Fe students and 32 of 40,000 Clear Creek students have active COVID cases, according to the most recent district data.
The change has many school administrators talking about relaxing some of their pandemic-related measures. Most commonly, schools are allowing parents back into schools for some events.
“We are very, very pleased to see the continuing downward trend of COVID-19 in our schools,” said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for Clear Creek Independent School District. “We are welcoming parents back into our schools where we had limited visitor access.”
This means parents can attend events such as book fairs or student performances, Polsen said.
Santa Fe schools on Nov. 1 began allowing parents onto campuses for events such as pep rallies, Thanksgiving feasts and field days, spokeswoman Patti Hanssard said.
“The virus trends and the guidance from the Galveston County Health District, we’ll continuously monitor those,” Hanssard said.
Texas City Independent School District is meeting next week to review COVID data and decide whether to make any changes, spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
Part of that discussion will include whether to continue with a district-wide mask requirement, she said.
“When they said we were going to start off with masks, they were making a decision that wasn’t necessarily going to be for the entire year,” Tortorici said.
Texas City is one of two districts — the other was Galveston — in the county that have required masks, despite a state prohibition against school district mask mandates. The state sued Galveston for its policy but reached a settlement allowing the district to keep, but not enforce, the rule.
After Thanksgiving break, Texas City plans to shift from a grab-and-go breakfast to a sit-down, in-cafeteria meal, she said.
It makes sense schools are relaxing some of their COVID-related safety protocols, said Dr. Philip Keiser, Galveston County’s top health authority.
“It is reasonable to back off some of those restrictions provided you’re willing to move back up when they come up again,” Keiser said.
Cases are low in schools because cases are low in the community, Keiser said.
But with the holidays and large events taking place this fall, Keiser expects another spike, which could translate into cases through unvaccinated populations of schools, he said.
“There are some people saying this is over,” Keiser said. “I’m not one of them.”
Some schools haven’t seen significant change yet. Friendswood is continuing to evaluate its plans, administrators said.
Dickinson hasn’t allowed parent visitors in yet, spokeswoman Tammy Dowdy said.
“I don’t know if that’s going to change,” Dowdy said. “There hasn’t been any talk yet about whether that would change.”
The start of vaccinations this week in students ages 5 through 11 has brought some hope to district administrators school life can continue moving toward less restrictive precautions.
“Last year, our numbers were higher on the staff side and this year our numbers were higher on the student side,” Tortorici said.
Clear Creek ISD plans to give some time for younger students to get vaccinated, then assess whether additional changes should be made, Polsen said.
The district isn’t allowing parents to eat lunch at the schools because the elementary students still are social distancing in the lunch rooms, Polsen said. That’s because the younger students haven’t had access to a vaccine until just this week, she said.
But as younger students have time to get vaccinated, that could change, she said.
“We’re just continuing to ask for parents’ patience,” Polsen said. “That’ll be the next big shift.”