For the first time in more than a year New Mexico students will be able to go back to school at 100% capacity, while our neighbors in Texas have spent all of the current school year attending class as normal.
So, what does having students back in school really do to COVID-19 numbers? According to Zach Hollbrooks, public health director for South Plains Public Health District for Gaines County — nothing.
Even though Texas students have been back in session for nearly six months, fewer COVID-19 positives were reported weeks following students going back to in-person learning in August than the weeks before.
“In the 10 days prior to school starting through the first day of school, there were 6 new cases age 0-19,” Hollbrooks said. “From the second day of school until 10 days after school started, there were 5 new cases age 0-19.”
Gaines County only has about a third of the population of Lea County with nearly 21,000 people. Lea has a little more than 71,000 residents. As of Tuesday Gaines County has had about 1,416 total COVID-19 positive cases while Lea County has seen approximately 8,121 positive cases since the pandemic began.
One-third of Lea County’s positive case number, comparatively the same size difference between Gaines and Lea County, is 2,707 — nearly double Gaines County’s positive cases.
Denver City schools, in Yaokum County, Texas, also did not see a surge in cases when students went back to school.
“We haven’t seen any impact from the schools going back open,” Yoakum County Judge Jim Barron said. “Both of our schools have done a good job monitoring the situation and if a child was sick they sent them home. I don’t think they have had a case reported.”
Hobbs Municipal Schools Superintendent TJ Parks said that when kids went back to school in Hobbs at a hybrid model of limited capacity, there was not a jump in cases.
“We’re ready,” Parks said. “We’re excited to have kids come back, get a little bit of normalcy back for the last nine weeks of school. Really I don’t expect a big spike. I think the majority of these kids and a majority of the adults have been interacting and practicing safe practices on their own. We have changed our culture. I mean it is not the same culture as it was a year ago. With people wearing masks and washing their hands and social distancing. So, I am not expecting a spike and am really excited to have kids come back.”
Parks said from what he knows about West Texas’ experience opening schools back up, is the virus has not been spreading while kids are on campus.
“What they see is that it doesn’t spread in the school but you do have kids that do come home and get infected,” Parks said. “That’s what’s happened with us. You’ll have a family of three or four kids and if Dad comes home from work and exposes the kids and they become infected. We have not seen any major spread in the schools.”
For the 2020/2021 school year, Hobbs schools has seen about 189 positive cases among staff and 88 positives among students. All of the cases occured during the five to one ratio for students in third grade and below and special education students.
“Have we seen a surge? No, we have not,” HMS Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Will Hawkins said. “Hobbs school districts was one of the few school districts in the state of New Mexico that operated a five to one ratio.”
Out of the 277 positives among staff and students at HMS, there are only four currently active cases.
The News-Sun reached out several times to the Denver City and Seminole School District superintendents and received no response regarding COVID-19 numbers.