Texas’ low number of tests and large percentage of positive results suggest inadequacies in the state’s public health surveillance effort at a time when school reopenings are certain to increase viral spread, health experts said.
The number of Texans being tested for the coronavirus has fallen sharply in recent weeks, a trend that has worried public health experts as officials consider sending children back to school while thousands more Texans are infected each day.
In the week ending Aug. 8, an average 36,255 coronavirus tests were administered in Texaseach day — a drop of about 42% from two weeks earlier, when the average number of daily tests was 62,516.
At the same time, the percentage of tests yielding positive results has climbed, up to 20% on average in the week ending Aug. 8. Two weeks earlier, the average positivity rate was around 14%.
On Saturday, the state set a record for its positivity rate, with more than half of that day’s roughly 14,000 viral tests indicating an infection.
Taken together, the low number of tests and the large percentage of positive results suggest inadequacies in the state’s public health surveillance effort at a time when school reopenings are certain to increase viral spread, health experts said.
“Opening the schools is a really complicated problem, and the best thing we can do is get the number of cases down so kids can go back to school safely,” said Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston. “There are so many reasons why kids need to be in school, particularly younger kids, but we’re finding out more and more they can get infected, and the concern is them bringing it home and spreading in the community and spreading to teachers.
“I think the worst thing would be for schools to open, then close,” she said. “That really makes it hard on parents, that unpredictability, and there’s a lot of costs associated with opening the schools safely.”
In San Antonio, health officials last week said that a return to school would lead to new viral transmission and a growing body of evidence shows racial disparities in children’s susceptibility to severe illness from the virus.
“We know that children are less likely to be sick, but not immune,” said Dr. Junda Woo, medical director for San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District, who said that on Wednesday there were about 80 children with coronavirus in local hospitals.
The role of children as disease vectors is less clear, Woo said. Studies show that children are less likely than adults to have infections severe enough to require hospitalization, but a recent report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Hispanic and Black children were much more likely to be hospitalized.
Hispanic children were about eight times as likely as white children to be hospitalized, while Black children were five times as likely, researchers found. In Texas, about 53% of public school students are Hispanic, and about 13% are Black.
“Outbreaks will happen” in schools, Woo said. She likened schools to other group settings that have seen significant clusters of infection, such as nursing homes and daycares. “It’s going to seep in from the community as a whole.”
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