Dallas ISD extends mask mandate, Lancaster ISD students to learn remotely due to omicron variant

As schools return from break this week some are making changes to deal with the latest COVID-19 surge.

Classes resume Wednesday in the Dallas Independent School District and it is extending its mask mandate for students through the spring break. The requirement was set to end after the MLK Day holiday.

Dallas ISD also announced those who come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 no longer have to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and don’t have any symptoms. The district’s nurses are available to test students and staff as COVID-19 cases rise.

Dozens of people braved the cold morning air Monday to line up for a COVID-19 test offered by the district. 

"Testing has become real important," said Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. "I had to get a test over the holidays and I could only buy one at a Walgreens and it was very difficult to even find one."

RELATED: Dallas ISD mask mandate to end in January 2022

Nurses also took boxes of tests that may be used for students exhibiting symptoms at school in the coming days. 

"We’re not requiring them to have a test, but we’re asking to comply if they have symptoms, then take test. We’ll see what happens," Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa says with Dallas County back at code red alert level for COVID-19 spread, he decided to extend the mandate until after spring break.

"Hopefully by that time it will get better, but that would have been two years now that we’ve been in that situation. Two long years," he said.

DISD also says it’s sticking to its protocol of a 10-day isolation with any positive case. 

Grand Prairie says it’s doing the same while waiting for the TEA to update any new guidelines heading into the spring semester. 

Fort Worth ISD tells FOX 4 it’s lowered the isolation period down to five days with a positive case. 

The CDC recently reduced the recommended number of quarantine days for asymptomatic positive cases from ten to five. 

Virtual learning vs in-person instruction

Unlike two years ago, Hinojosa said the district will not be going all virtual again, even with the spread of COVID-19 due to the omicron variant.

"That will be the last, last, last resort and we are not there yet. We discovered only five percent of our kids did well in virtual instruction," Hinojosa said.

The U.S. Secretary of Education said it’s important for schools to make every effort to keep kids in classrooms and not have to revert to remote learning.

"The goal is full-time, in-person learning for our students. They’ve suffered enough," said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. "Many parents don’t have the luxury of staying home. So, we have to do everything possible to keep them in school as our Plan A, Plan B and Plan C."

However, students in the Lancaster Independent School District in Dallas County will not be learning in the classroom this week. 

The district announced students will learn remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

For now, Lancaster ISD said in-person learning will resume next Monday on Jan. 10

The district also offered vaccines for students and parents from Monday at the Lancaster High School gym.

RELATED: Lancaster ISD to start spring semester with virtual learning due to omicron variant

Experts urge vaccinations

Health experts have said the best safeguard is for parents to get their kids vaccinated. The shots are currently available for children ages five and up. The FDA on Monday also expanded the emergency authorization for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine booster to children ages 12 to 15.

Pediatrician Dr. Julie Linderman said that while positive case numbers may be skyrocketing, the public and medical response is more sophisticated than 2 years ago.

"It is easy to panic, all hardwired to respond the same way to the threat of COVID and it’s hard to kind of change our view in how we live with this endemic virus," she said.

Dr. Linderman says common sense over testing may be the best solution. 

"You can test one day and be negative because your viral load is low. And you can test the next day and be positive. It may not even change how likely you are to transmit the virus," 

Linderman says the key is when you are sick, to avoid others. 

"Eventually COVID will hopefully look like another cold or flu virus that is endemic, that we live with, that is highly transmissible but mild.