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Panelists Discuss Pandemic Response, School Year at Telephone Town Hall

Panelists discuss their current coronavirus response and the upcoming school year. (Photo from March 2020)EXPAND
Panelists discuss their current coronavirus response and the upcoming school year. (Photo from March 2020)
Jacob Vaughn

U.S Rep. Colin Allred said it’s clear now that Texas reopened too soon and with too few precautions. “Though you can’t predict a pandemic, it didn’t have to be this way,” he said.

Allred, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and representatives from Richardson Independent School District and UT Southwestern Medical Center all met for a telephone town hall last night to discuss the coronavirus, resources for the public and updates on reopening schools in the fall.

It's frustrating, he said, that healthcare has become a partisan issue, especially during a pandemic. But it is imperative that people stay at home as much as possible and wear a mask in public if they want to help stop the spread of the virus, Allred said.

Before the town hall, Dallas County extended its state of emergency. Despite this, County Judge Clay Jenkins said Dallas is seeing improvements because people are social distancing, using masks and practicing good hygiene. He said these measures must be taken in the upcoming elections. Jenkins said “you’d have to be an incredible jackass” not to wear a mask to the polls.

Wait times for COVID-19 test sites are back down to 2-3 days, Jenkins said. He said initially people were waiting longer because the feds’ two labs processing the tests were getting backed up. They have since started using private contractors to speed up the process.

People can find testing locations on the Dallas County website.

A Garland ISD teacher called in to tell panelists she’s very concerned about schools reopening. She said there’s no space to socially distance. “Are we really prepared?” she asked.

Richardson ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone said the pandemic has brought a new meaning to school safety. But Stone said she’s confident they’re ready to meet the challenges in reopening. The school district covers most of Richardson and portions of Dallas and Garland.

Richardson ISD is set to begin the school year virtually on August 19. Currently, Dallas County is prohibiting in-person schooling until after Labor Day. Stone said the district is letting the parents decide whether or not to send their children on campus.

Based on responses from parents in the district so far, Stone said 55% will be sending their kids back to school in person, while the rest will keep their kids online.

Jenkins said schools in Dallas County are not set to reopen for in-person instruction until Sept. 8. The county is dedicated to keeping teachers safe, although pressure from the likes of President Donald Trump may change reopening plans.

Stone said their 2020 motto is “We’ve got this,” but adds that there is still a concern for the district's more than  2,500 teachers.

Tabitha Branum, Richardson ISD deputy superintendent, said double-masking, face shields, plexiglass shields, staggered arrival times, among many other things, are key to reopening schools.

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Another caller said she was upset that the $600 disaster unemployment from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act did not get extended and Allred how much longer people will have to wait for it to get extended.

Allred said he wants to extend the extra $600 for unemployment and that he’s hoping an agreement will be reached this week.

But there is a dim light at the end of the tunnel. Dr. Julie Trivedi, the medical director of Infection Prevention & Infectious Disease Specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said vaccine development is moving forward. Five are in Phase 3 clinical trials, she said, and there are more on the way.

According to Texas Health and Human Services, Dallas County has reported over 51,000 cases of infection by the coronavirus.

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