UT Health East Texas: About 40% of positive COVID cases in August were in people under 20

COVID-19 cases rising among kids and teenagers in East Texas
Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 6:59 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 7:23 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - East Texas health leaders say more kids and teenagers are testing positive for COVID-19. And while the hospitalization rate for young people is very low, they say these cases spread to the community.

“It just helps continue the spread like wildfire through East Texas,” said Dr. Tom Cummins, Chief Medical Officer for UT Health East Texas.

Cummins said they’re seeing more and more students not only showing up for COVID-testing, but also testing positive.

“About half the people we tested in our clinics in August, 49% of all the tests, were on people under 20,” Cummins said. “And of the positive cases, 40% were in kids under 20.”

And because of that, school closures don’t come as a surprise to many health leaders.

“It’s a real threat,” said Dr. James Wilcox, Longview ISD superintendent. “And the threat is to the education of our children, and, boy, catching up is a really hard thing to do.”

Wilcox leads one of the four East Texas school districts with a mask mandate. Those requiring a mask include Longview ISD, Chapel Hill ISD, and Diboll ISD. Starting Tuesday, Sept. 7, Lufkin ISD will join them.

“I think things like this are better kept at the local level,” said Lynn Torres, Lufkin ISD Superintendent. “And as far as I know there have been no methods from the governor’s office or TEA to enforce this (ban on mandates). They need local officials to do that, so I guess we’ll just get in line and wait until somebody comes for us.”

In a Wednesday board meeting, the commissioners of the Texas Education Agency said the closures come at a time when students really need to be in the classroom catching up.

It is very disruptive at the moment and school systems are wrestling mightily to ensure that they offer a safe instructional environment, and that we have in-person instruction happening,” he said. “Which needs to happen, certainly given the results we saw from last year.”

With so many schools closing and other districts implementing measures to avoid closing, Dr. Cummins has this advice for East Texas parents:

“Number one: if your child is 12 and older get them vaccinated. Start the process immediately. Number two, have your child wear a mask in class. And encourage the school board to allow mask mandates. I realize there’s a lot of political challenges to that. But we know masking helps. And it always has and always will help in this situation.”

We reached out to Tyler ISD on Thursday. A spokeswoman tells us the district’s case counts are up compared to last year, but they are not considering a mask mandate. The district’s superintendent was unavailable for an interview.

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