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COVID-19 In DFW Oct. 4-Oct. 10: The battle over mask mandates in schools continues

A photo of disposable face masks.

Allen ISD lawsuit is dismissed, and a hearing on whether students with disabilities are hurt by a lack of mask mandates waits for a ruling.

For the latest on the pandemic in North Texas, visit KERA News' COVID-19 Live Updates page.

Saturday, Oct. 9

Tarrant County reports 779 cases, 10 deaths

Tarrant County health officials reported 779 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 Saturday, as well as 10 deaths. The deaths reported Saturday include people who ranged in age from their 20s to their 80s, all with underlying health conditions.

Tarrant County has now seen 4,440 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. Officials also report 326,787 people have recovered.

Providers continue to roll out additional vaccine doses

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports 720,703 people have now received an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose. That includes Texans who have been given booster shots, as well as those who have received a third dose.

Federal health officials currently recommend an additional vaccine dose for people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised. Booster doses are recommended for certain groups who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at least six months ago.

Friday, Oct. 8

Parents dismiss Allen ISD mask lawsuit, plan to refile in a different district court

Parents on Thursday dismissed their right-to-life lawsuit against Allen ISD over its lack of a mask mandate, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Now, they’re planning to refile the case in the Western District Court of Texas, adding themselves as plaintiffs to a similar civil rights lawsuit against Lago Vista ISD by adding Allen ISD as a defendant. Parents suing Lago Vista ISD are being represented by Martin Cirkiel, the same attorney used by the parents suing Allen ISD.

“This is an important victory for the District,” Allen ISD wrote in a prepared statement to local media Thursday night regarding the case’s dismissal.

Allen ISD said it has already spent tens of thousands of dollars on a right-to-life lawsuit over the district’s lack of a mask mandate. Last Friday, a federal court judge heard arguments on a temporary restraining order for the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Sean Jordan denied the temporary restraining order last week but had not yet ruled on a permanent injunction for the lawsuit, court documents show.

Allen ISD said in the statement that the district believes its “strong case in court” likely influenced the parents to dismiss the case.

The group of parents say they changed course for a different reason.

“This decision was not made because we feel AISD is providing reasonable COVID safeguards based on medical guidance. This decision was not made because we feel AISD has a strong legal case,” a prepared statement from Cirkiel’s office read.

Read the full story by The Dallas Morning News.

Texas senate approves plan to divvy up COVID relief funds

A plan to distribute roughly $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds is heading to the full Texas Senate, after the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved it Thursday.

Flower Mound Republican Jane Nelson is the Senate's chief budget writer. She says a bulk of the money will go toward the state's unemployment insurance fund.

"It provides $7.2 billion to replenish the Unemployment Compensation Fund, ensuring that businesses are not faced with an increase in unemployment taxes due to pandemic-related layoffs," Nelson said.

The plan also provides more than $500 million to expand broadband access. Another $200 million is allocated for grants to support the state's tourism and hospitality industry, which was hit hard by the pandemic.

There's also $400 million to retain critical staffing in places, like nursing homes.

Plaintiffs hope for ruling next week suit claiming Texas' mask mandate ban hurts students with disabilities

A group that filed the first federal lawsuit challenging Governor Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates in schools is awaiting the judge's ruling following a trial earlier this week.

Disability Rights Texas argued in court on Wednesday that prohibiting local mask requirements discriminates against students with disabilities.

Dustin Rynders, supervising attorney for the organization's education team, said if the judge does not rule in their favor, it will be tragic for their clients and other students with disabilities across the state.

"Students need access to in-person learning, that's especially true for students with disabilities", Rynders said.

Rynders said he hopes the federal judge will rule as soon as next week.

August's jobs numbers were bad. September was even worse, but there's room for hope.

Employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, according to a monthly snapshot from the Labor Department. That's even worse than the anemic job gains in August and far below the pace of hiring earlier in the summer, when employers were adding around a million jobs a month.

"It's just a bumpy recovery," says Nela Richardson, chief economist at the payroll processing firm ADP. "And it's a recovery that's still linked to the pandemic and the Delta variant."

A surge of new coronavirus cases slammed the brakes on hiring in August, when employers added just 366,000 jobs. Restaurants and retail shops actually cut workers that month, as fear of the virus discouraged customers from eating out and shopping.

Still there's some room for hope.

Since August, the health outlook has improved. New infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all fallen in recent weeks.

Bars and restaurants added 29,000 jobs in September.

The unemployment rate dipped to 4.8% in September, from 5.2% in August, partly because some people dropped out of the workforce.

Read more from NPR.

Thursday, Oct. 7

Texas expert not optimistic approving vaccine for kids will lead to high use

A top vaccine expert in Texas says it's good news Pfizer is asking the FDA for emergency authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds.

But, Doctor Peter Hotez with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston adds he’s not optimistic it will dramatically improve overall vaccination numbers, citing what parents are already doing in the South.

"Only 33% of the 12 to 17-year-olds were given the COVID-19 vaccine here in the South … and I have to believe they’ll probably hold back on vaccinating their younger kids as well," Hotez told CNN. "So, we may be looking at a very low uptake of this pediatric vaccine in the South and also in the Mountain West. And, that’s going to be a problem. That’s going to slow us down.”

New report says vaccines prevented thousands of deaths & hospital stays for Texans with Medicare

A new federal study estimates COVID-19 vaccinations reduced thousands of fatalities and hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries in Texas.

Rebecca Haffajee is with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She says the goal of the study was to examine how vaccines affected health outcomes during the first five months of the vaccine rollout this year.

"We suggested that vaccinations were associated with about 24,000 reductions in COVID infections, 9, 700 reductions in hospitalizations and 3,600 reductions in deaths," Haffajee said.

The report estimates, nationwide, COVID-19 vaccinations prevented nearly 39,000 deaths among Medicare beneficiaries.

Wednesday, Oct. 6

Volunteers needed for food giveaway event in Fort Worth

Fort Worth ISD and the Tarrant Area Food Bank are looking for volunteers to help distribute food to families in need each Wednesday night at the Mega Mobile Market at Herman Clark Stadium.

Volunteers are needed from 5 – 8 p.m. Food distribution is from 6 – 8 p.m.

Interested in volunteering? Register on the food bank’s website. You can volunteer individually or with a team.

Trial over if Texas' mask mandate ban hurts students with disabilities starts today

A federal trial got underway in Austin today to determine whether the Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates in schools violates the rights of students with disabilities.

Julia Longoria's 8-year-old daughter is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Texas.

"The governor is refusing to acknowledge science." Longoria told Texas Public Radio's The Source. "This is not about opinions, this is not about politics, this is about science. And, [what] science says we need to do to protect our kids."

The trial begins one week after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a formal statement supporting the lawsuit.

State health leaders host vaccine pop-up event in Fort Worth

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is hosting a COVID-19 vaccine outreach and education pop-up event at a Fort Worth Walmart on Friday.

The event will take place in the parking lot of the store located at 2900 Renaissance Square.

The outdoor event will feature activities such as an arcade-style “Take the Shot” basketball game, wheel spi, and prizes.

There will also be an outdoor video wall playing DSHS’s public service announcements and sound bites from local pediatricians, community members, and parents sharing information about the vaccine and its effectiveness as the safest way to protect the entire family from COVID-19.

Tuesday, Oct. 5

Teacher, high school student in Richardson ISD die from COVID complications

A high school student and teacher in Richardson ISD have died from complications of COVID-19, officials said.

Sha’Niyah McGee was a student at Berkner High School and Eroletta Piasczyk was a teacher at Christa McAuliffe Learning Center.

"Sha'Niyah was described by some of her teachers as very sweet, kind and just a delight to know and have in class," Superintendent Jeannie Stone said at a school board meeting Monday.

Piasczyk, known as "Mrs. P," was described as a "talented, compassionate and dedicated" teacher, Stone said.

Texas' mask mandate ban goes on trial

A federal trial begins tomorrow to determine if Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates in schools violates the rights of students with disabilities.

Disability Rights Texas launched the suit in August.

"Our lawsuit claims that the governor's order that keeps schools from being able to implement mask requirements when they see fit actually discriminates against children with disabilities by depriving them equal access to public schools," Dustin Rynders who's with the organization told Texas Public Radio's The Source.

The trial begins one week after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a formal statement supporting the lawsuit, pointing out children with disabilities are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19

Texas Health Commissioner says flu shots are a must this year

The commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services is urging residents to get the flu shot.

Doctor John Hellerstedt says last year's flu season was mild because people were taking precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"Now for this upcoming fall and winter because we have COVID vaccines, we expect fewer people to be wearing masks and physically distancing," Hellerstedt said. "As a result there are reasons to expect a worse flu season than last year."

He also said getting a flu shot will help prevent further strain on hospitals.

Sheila Jackson Lee asks frontline workers to get boosters

A Houston Democratic congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee, is urging frontline workers and other eligible individuals to get the COVID-19 booster shot. Jackson Lee spoke at the city's police officers union this weekend.

"I couldn't think of a better place to be than the Houston police officers union to give our first responders the opportunity to be able to be vaccinated or get the booster shot," Jackson Lee said.

Nearly 600,000 Texans have gotten a booster or additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine according to the latest state data.

Monday, Oct. 4

Southwest Airlines among a handful of carriers requiring employees to be vaccinated

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines announced Monday it would require its employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to a report from WFAA, the vaccine will be required to continue working for the airline. The carrier explained that its contracts with the federal government makes them a government contractor, so it is covered by President Joe Biden's order directing contractors to mandate vaccines for employees.

On Friday, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue announced they were joining United Airlines in also requiring vaccines for their employees.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees late Friday that the airline is still working on details, but "it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines."

The pilot union at American recently estimated that 4,200 — or 30% — of the airline's pilots are not vaccinated.

Nearly 550,000 Texans receive additional vaccine dose

The Texas Department of State Health Services reports 549,816 Texans have now received an additional or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Federal officials recommend additional doses for immunocompromised people, as well as booster shots for certain people who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago. That includes those 65 and older, and people with underlying health conditions.

Texas schools have reported more COVID-19 cases in two months than the entire 2020-21 school year

Two months into this school year, districts have reported 172,275 cases in students. But state data on school cases is incomplete and likely an undercount.

Some large districts, such as Houston and Dallas, have not consistently reported cases to the state since TEA started tracking COVID-19 data on Aug. 2 for this school year. Many districts publish a COVID-19 dashboard that shows cases, and TEA recommends families check for the latest data there.

Entire districts, including Angleton and Lumberton, have closed temporarily without reporting cases to the state. These districts don’t necessarily report their closures, either, since they are not required to do so. TEA informally tracks closures based on media and district reports, said Frank Ward, an agency spokesperson.

To see some of the latest data, read the story from the Texas Tribune.

Baylor Scott & White hosts drive-through flu clinics

Baylor Scott & White will be hosting additional drive-through flu clinics in North Texas this week:

  • Saturday, Oct. 9 - 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Baylor Scott & White Primary Care in McKinney, 5220 W University Dr, Building 2, Ste 100, McKinney
  • Saturday, Oct. 9 - 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Baylor Scott & White Southlake Family Medicine, 925 E Southlake Blvd, Ste 100, Southlake

For more information, and to make an appointment, go to the Baylor Scott & White website.

Read More: A Timeline Of COVID-19's Spread In North Texas

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