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What are the chances of a COVID-19 case in the first week of school? UT-Austin researchers take a look

Godley ISD and Keene ISD go back to school in person Tuesday

GODLEY, Texas — Rich Dear knows he’s a bit of a guinea pig.

He’s the superintendent of Godley ISD in Johnson County, where roughly 2,400 students will head back to school Tuesday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re excited. We’re anxious, just kind of everything rolled into one,” Dear said. “It’s going to happen. It’s cold or the flu. You’re going to have students that are sick, and you’ve just got to be ready.”

Spencer Fox is part of a University of Texas at Austin research team that used cases per person data to make a model of how many infectious students would show up in schools in week one.

“We generally expect cases to show up in schools as they reopen and that shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Fox said. “Our analysis was trying to provide a metric for schools to look at to think about how safe it would be to reopen.”

The model says a 500-person school in Johnson County can expect four positive students on week one. That doesn’t include students spreading the virus to each other.

RELATED: Burleson ISD to start remotely Aug. 31 | See full list of district plans

Many Tarrant County and Dallas County school districts have pushed back start dates, but if school were to start this week, the model suggests a 500-person school in Tarrant County would have four cases. Dallas County would have five.

“We’re already starting to see some of the predictions it makes come true,” Fox said.

An Indiana school had to isolate students the same day it opened Thursday after a student tested positive.

The UT-Austin model numbers don’t account for students spreading it to each other or to teachers.

“If school transmission occurs, then our risk estimates would be increased dramatically,” Fox said.

RELATED: MAP: These are the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Dallas-Fort Worth area

A Georgia Tech model looked at the likelihood of a positive case in different group sizes.

For a 100-person gathering in Johnson County, there’s a 92 percent chance of a positive case. It’s 97 and 99 percent in Tarrant and Dallas counties.

Eighty percent of Godley ISD parents picked in-person learning over online learning.

“Our community wants our kids to be in school, wants our kids to be face to face,” Dear said.

Another Johnson County district, Keene ISD, is also headed back Tuesday.

“Really, I think it comes down to the policies that schools are going to have in response to a single infection,” Fox said.

Dear says Godley ISD is still game-planning through what to do when that first case happens.

“It’s hard to say because it changes day-to-day and that’s just how [the Texas Education Agency] gets that information out,” Dear said.

There are many unknowns about what happens when students head back to school, but one way or another, Godley ISD parents will soon get the answers.

“I think they need to do whatever they feel is right,” Dear said. “If they don’t want to have their kids back yet, that’s why we have virtual learning.”