See an interactive timeline highlighting key points throughout the time period below.
On March 6, 2020, Frisco officials took preventative measures in the form of canceling local events due to the possibility of coronavirus. Earlier the same day, the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals in Austin was canceled based on the recommendation of Austin/Travis County Medical Director Dr. Mark Escott.
On March 9, 2020, there were 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Denton County, and school districts across Dallas-Fort Worth prepared to respond to coronavirus concerns. Northwest ISD and Keller ISD issued best-practice recommendations and official statements.
“We will be asking employees to self-report to their supervisor and families to self-report to their campus principal if they traveled to any of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-restricted areas,” Keller ISD officials said March 6, 2020.
Collin County identified three confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 10, 2020. As of March 10, 2020, officials from the city and the Greater Keller Chamber of Commerce indicated that parks and recreation-, and chamber-sponsored events, such as Keller Fest, would be unaffected.
Similarly, the city of Roanoke had no plans to cancel city events at the time, City Manager Scott Campbell said via email.
Spring break extensions
By March 12, 2020, schools across the metroplex extended spring break and switched to online classes for the remainder of the semester to combat the spread of the virus.
The University of North Texas canceled all in-person classes March 16-22, 2020, in response to the coronavirus.
Classes at The University of Texas at Dallas switched to an online format March 30, 2020, for the remainder of the spring semester, according to a message from university President Richard C. Benson.
“As we have learned in recent days and weeks, the situation caused by COVID-19 (coronavirus) is highly dynamic, and risks to our community can change rapidly,” his statement said.
Richardson ISD required students who travel to high-risk countries over spring break to self-quarantine before returning to school.
McKinney ISD, Frisco ISD, Plano ISD, Keller ISD, Northwest ISD and Collin College all extended the length of spring break in 2020 due to coronavirus concerns.
State of emergency in Dallas County
Dallas County declared a state of emergency on March 12, 2020, banning gatherings of 500 people or more. Frisco ISD teachers received eLearning training on March 13.
Superintendent Mike Waldrip sent a message to teachers and staff March 12 explaining the eLearning platform would allow the Texas Education Agency to grant the district a waiver to allow it to continue receiving state funding.
“Absent this learning platform, we will not be able to provide educational services to our students,” Waldrip’s message stated. “Just to provide you with a perspective on the magnitude of this issue, if our school district were to be closed for two weeks, during a time when we should be open providing an education to our learners, Frisco ISD would lose $25 million dollars in funding. Without this money, we cannot pay salaries and operate the district during this time of closure.”
Additionally, Texas' primary runoff election was postponed until July 14, 2020. The primary runoff was originally scheduled for May 26. Gov. Greg Abbott ordered March 20 that the runoff be moved as part of the state's efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
On April 27, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott approved loosened business restrictions. On April 28, Dallas County announced 135 new cases—the county's highest daily case count at the time.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins asked residents to consider the risks of loosened business restrictions.
“If we don't choose to go to a crowded movie house, but our neighbor does, that has an impact on all of us,” he said.
Jenkins said at the time the county would work with businesses that plan to reopen to ensure the rollout is as safe as possible, but residents should carefully weigh the consequences of resuming normal life.
“I’m not telling you to second-guess the governor,” he said. “I’m telling you this because now, it is up to you to make good decisions and to decide what you want to do as a business owner and resident.”
Surge in number of confirmed cases
Moving into May 2020, Denton County Public Health announced the 22nd coronavirus death and a total of 786 confirmed cases in the county. By June, Dallas County had the highest number of confirmed cases yet and the hospitalization rate had reached 40%.
“This number [of confirmed case totals] is the one to watch most closely as this represents the tip of the iceberg that you can see and gives an indication to the amount of COVID-19 cases spreading in the community that you are yet to see,” Jenkins said in the statement.
As the year progressed, school districts throughout DFW had to confront their plan for beginning the 2020-21 school year. Tarrant County announced that schools would be required to offer virtual learning, and both Keller and Northwest ISDs began the school year with remote instruction. Both districts planned to reopen campuses for in-person learning on Sept. 28, 2020, with the requirement of face coverings, medical screenings, contact tracing and social distancing.
“My biggest concern is the kids who may not have the discipline or learning style [for online classes],” said Rebekah Bos, who has multiple children in KISD. “We want our kids to be able to go to school because we didn’t feel like they were self-motivating during online classes.”
KISD Superintendent Rick Westfall said there would also be hybrid learning for primarily virtual students who wanted to take an in-person-exclusive class.
In contrast to KISD and NISD, Frisco ISD started the 2020-21 academic year with three weeks of virtual classes and planned to transition to in-person classes by Sept. 3. Frisco ISD Superintendent Mike Waldrip said over 25,000 devices and 200-300 WiFi hotspots were distributed to FISD students and families for the fall, and a hotline was available for families to reach out with technology issues.
On Sept. 25, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to help Texans at risk of eviction and homelessness. The $171 million of CARES Act funds were divided between two categories: targeted rental assistance and the Texas Supreme Court.
"The Texas Eviction Diversion Program is crucial to our state's response to COVID-19, and it will help many families recover from the impact of the pandemic without the looming threat of eviction," Abbott said in a press release. "This innovative partnership, coupled with the renters assistance provided through CARES Act funding, will strengthen our economic recovery efforts and provide a lifeline to renters and property owners alike."
Spike in cases
By the third quarter of the year, cities throughout the DFW metroplex were breaking records for new COVID-19 cases in a single day. On Nov. 20, Dallas County broke its single-day record with 1,974 confirmed cases, and broke it again the following day with 2,183 confirmed cases. Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, McKinney added 499 new cases, and as of Dec. 3, 306 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. This equated to 11.92% of the total hospital bed capacity. Plano added 900 new cases of coronavirus in a week, and in Trauma Service Area E, the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 accounted for 15% of total hospital capacity.
As positive COVID-19 cases increased in communities across DFW, counties began designing the process for vaccinating community members. On Feb. 2, 2021, Denton County held the first of three vaccination clinics to administer approximately 30,000 doses.
“The ability to vaccinate 10,000 individuals in one day is a monumental task,” said Matt Richardson, the county’s public health director, in a statement. “We are thankful for the support from Texas Motor Speedway, various cities generously providing additional staffing and staff from multiple Denton County departments working in unison to provide mass vaccination to our community.”
Collin County also increased vaccination opportunities and received 42,900 COVID-19 vaccine doses the week of Feb. 8-12, which nearly doubled the total county allotment of 45,875 doses since December.
In addition, two new vaccination hubs opened—one in Frisco and one at the Sam Johnson Recreation Center in Plano. By the week of Feb. 8-12, the county had six vaccine hubs that operated by appointment only.
The same week, CVS pharmacies began offering vaccinations at locations across North Texas, including Plano, Frisco, Richardson and Roanoke. The vaccines were allocated directly from the federal government as part of the pharmacy partnership program.
By March 10, 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott ended the mask mandate. According to the Office of the Texas Governor website, this allowed all businesses to open to 100% capacity. Businesses could still use their own discretion to limit capacity or require safety protocols, and “if COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a county judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies.”
Carroll ISD announced its intention to vaccinate district employees and continued enforcing safety protocols in its schools.
“I can't say enough about what's been done from the fall to this point to mitigate any type of COVID[-19] exposure for our kids,” Superintendent Lane Ledbetter said. “I don't think it would be prudent in this situation to change immediately what we're doing and what we're recommending for our students just to do away with the masks at this time.”
Decrease in new cases
On March 2, Dallas County officials confirmed that the COVID-19 death toll surpassed 3,000. The number of new cases continued to drop with a seven-day average of 230 cases, or 8.7 cases per 100,000 residents.
On March 23, Denton County opened the COVID-19 vaccine waitlist to include residents age 16 and older. Previously, the waitlist was open to residents age 50 and older, and those living with chronic medical conditions as well as professionals in health care fields and schools. The expansion allowed all adults to sign up for the county's list as well as residents who are at least 16 years old.
School districts receive COVID-19 funding
On April 28, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a third round of funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund— $11.2 billion for public schools intended to help districts mitigate pandemic-related incurred costs as well as learning loss in schools.
Plano ISD was allocated over $43 million in relief.
“These additional funds will be a tremendous help in facilitating a comprehensive, long-term approach to support students and staff affected by the pandemic,” PISD Chief Operating Officer Theresa Williams said in a statement. “Leveraging these additional dollars will provide resources to maximize our efforts in supporting learning needs for students, as well as focusing on the social and emotional well-being of students, teachers and staff.”
Richardson ISD was allocated nearly $70 million in relief funding, and RISD staff presented an academic acceleration plan focused on mitigating learning loss to the board of trustees.
"These funds really are about addressing the learning recovery that is needed as a result of the pandemic, and allowing districts to be incredibly creative and innovative in how they do that," Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum said.
Masks become optional in school districts
Moving into summer 2021, school districts across DFW adjusted safety protocol policies to make masks optional. On May 10, McKinney ISD announced it would not offer virtual learning for the 2021-22 school year and that wearing masks would become optional on May 24. Superintendent Rick McDaniel said the district intended to return with 100% in-person classes in the fall.
On June 1, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD made it optional to wear masks and did not require quarantine for those who had been in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case; and by June 7, Northwest ISD relaxed its mask and visitor policies in accordance with recommendations from the district’s COVID-19 Task Force.
Negative impact on academic performance
In June 2021, districts throughout DFW began noticing a trend in learning loss and poor academic performance. In preliminary results from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, there was a marked increase in the percentage of students not meeting academic expectations.
Schools across DFW, including Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Keller ISD, Lewisville ISD, Plano ISD, McKinney ISD, Northwest ISD and Richardson ISD, showed students underperforming, not meeting expectations and struggling with learning loss.
In McKinney, Plano and Richardson, the learning-loss gap widened, and the percentages of students who were not meeting academic expectations increased.
"We have been standing up in front of you, really since August, sharing with you ... the very real learning loss that our students have experienced," Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum said to the RISD board. "We know, on average, our students in reading are seeing a three-to-five month learning gap. And our students in mathematics are seeing a four-to-six month learning gap."
PISD preliminary scores showed that 20% of fifth graders and 39% of eighth graders did not meet expectations in math in the spring of 2021. In McKinney ISD, the number of eighth-graders who did not meet math expectations jumped from 10% in the spring of 2019 to 33% in the spring of 2021.
In Keller and Northwest ISDs, STAAR results showed a similar trend.
During a Texas State Board of Education meeting June 23, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath spoke about the “academic damage” the pandemic has done to the state’s school system. Morath called the preliminary numbers “problematic.”
While students in Grapevine-Colleyville and Lewisville ISDs continued to show an increase in learning loss, Carroll ISD was an exception to the rule.
"Our teachers have worked incredibly hard during the past 18 months to ensure our students excel in all subject areas, and our results demonstrate their commitment to our legacy of excellence," CISD Superintendent Lane Ledbetter said in a statement. "While we see very little change, we always want to achieve at the highest levels. We look forward to this coming school year, and we are focused on any and all learning loss due to COVID-19. Our focus for this coming school year is that every instructional minute matters to ensure that every Dragon achieves their highest hopes."
By June 25, 2021, vaccination totals were rising, and the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases dropped in Collin and Denton counties.
The DSHS COVID-19 vaccination dashboard showed a combined estimate of more than 890,000 people in the two counties were fully vaccinated.
The city of Plano announced that by July 1, it would no longer provide city-specific COVID-19 information, according to an announcement on its dashboard. However, the information would still be available from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the announcement stated.
School districts throughout DFW saw a large increase in the number of virtual students attending online classes.
In Frisco ISD, more than 8,200 students signed up for online classes; Richardson ISD saw more than 1,000 enrolled virtual learners; and Plano ISD had nearly 2,400 students enroll in a parent-led virtual learning option.
“Our primary model of instruction is still face-to-face,” PISD Superintendent Sara Bonser said in an interview with Community Impact Newspaper. “But for those parents who might be able to provide more support to their children at home, we wanted to provide that [virtual] option but still preserve the face-to-face learning environment to the greatest degree possible, which I think we've done with this model.”
Carroll ISD began exploring virtual learning options.
"We do not, this year, get to count those [remote students] for attendance credit," Ledbetter said during an update on Aug. 12. "When we offered the Dragon Virtual Academy, the state was funding us for every child logged in."
This virtual option would primarily serve students in pre-K through sixth grade who are not eligible for the vaccine, Ledbetter said. The COVID-19 vaccine was not available to children under the age of 12 yet, and masks remained optional across Carroll ISD campuses.
Spike in hospitalizations
On Aug. 5, 2021, North Texas reached the highest level of patients in hospital beds since February.
By the end of July, Tarrant County reported 550 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Vinny Taneja, Tarrant County’s director of public health, suggested residents, even those who are vaccinated, consider a “layered” approach to staying safe—that is, still distancing themselves and wearing masks in certain situations. But ultimately, Taneja said more residents getting vaccinated was the top priority.
“[Vaccinations are] the one tool we have that really works,” Taneja said.
On Aug. 12, Dallas County reported over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19.
“Today’s number of new COVID[-19] cases is once again over 1,000, and the numbers continue to climb,” Jenkins said in a statement Aug. 12. “The staffing situation in our hospitals has never been worse, and increasing numbers of patients require care.”
In Denton County on Aug. 24, 519 daily cases were reported, bringing the overall number of active cases to 9,044.
The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council reported Aug. 24 that 48.1% of adult ICU patients in the 19-county North Texas area known as Trauma Service Area E had COVID-19. In total, there were 3,272 COVID-19 patients in hospitals throughout the 19 counties, including Denton County.
By Aug. 30, Denton County reached a new all-time high with confirmed cases representing 28.7% of all hospitalizations.
At this time, Denton County’s dashboard provided data each day as compared to the once-a-week postings from the Texas Education Agency’s dashboard, said Dr. Matt Richardson, director of public health.
“We’re hoping to get information into the hands of parents and decision makers more quickly,” Richardson said.
On Sept. 8, Dallas County reported a four-day total of nearly 4,900 new COVID-19 cases.
At this time, there had been 310,272 cases and 4,388 deaths in Dallas County since officials began data collection in March 2020. About 19% of deaths countywide were associated with long-term care facilities.
Moving into fall 2021, COVID-19 cases dropped in Dallas County and Denton County after the spike of cases earlier in September. Plano ISD and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD relaxed masking and contact tracing policies.
"We took action in early August to address that surge," board President David Stolle said on the topic of allowing the mask mandate to expire on Sept. 24 in Plano ISD. " We are through the surge, in my mind, and we are tracking exactly with what the expectation was, at least in my mind, when I justified my decision that we had a crisis that needed to be addressed."
The Lewisville ISD Superintendent said the district was persevering despite facing challenges associated with COVID-19.
“While there has absolutely been some academic decline, I do want to make it clear there's still a lot of great things happening in our classrooms day in and day out,” Superintendent Kevin Rogers said.
On Oct. 27 across North Texas, the rate of patients in hospital beds due to COVID-19 dropped below 7% for the first time since July 24.
In the first three weeks of November, Denton County began to see a trending increase in COVID-19 cases. In a Nov. 30 news release, The Denton County Public Health Department reported 212 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the county-wide total to 110,970.
“It’s nothing like it was last Christmas and last Thanksgiving, but it’s very different than the summer,” Dr. Matt Richardson, Denton County Public Health director said. “Unfortunately, we believe this is going to continue.”
On Dec. 13, the first case of the omicron variant of COVID-19 was reported in Denton County.
“This is a concern,” Richardson said. "It shows that there are likely other cases of the variant undetected in the county."
Within the first two weeks of 2022, Denton County suffered from a wave of omicron variant cases. From Jan. 3-6, the health department reported 2,949 COVID-19 cases, according to county data. Hospitals saw 20% absenteeism in staff, and like other variant waves, omicron caused an emergency room hold, meaning no staffed inpatient beds were available and people would experience long wait times.
Dallas County followed a similar pattern, reporting 4,800 new cases at the beginning of 2022, and Tarrant County saw a record rate of positive COVID-19 tests.
Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja detailed the latest data for county commissioners on Jan. 4, noting the seven-day average of positive COVID-19 tests was up to 35.31% as of Jan. 1. The previous high mark, set on Jan. 6, 2021, had been an average of 31.18%.
Across North Texas, hospitalizations rose consistently. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services dashboard, nearly 18% of North Texas hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients on Jan. 5, which was more than a 66% increase in the percentage of hospital beds in Trauma Service Area E occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients since Dec. 29.
In response to the rise in cases, Richardson ISD implemented a temporary mask requirement for all students and staff through the end of January.
“This decision was made because of an unprecedented rise in positive cases among students and employees,” Interim Superintendent Tabitha Branum said in a statement. “We continue to focus on the goal of keeping our schools open for in-person teaching and learning, and this is a necessary step if we hope to keep our students learning in school.”
Huge spike in positive cases, biggest since delta
By Jan. 19, there was a huge spike in omicron variant cases, and it was the biggest since the delta wave. Dallas County reported a four-day total of nearly 10,000 new cases. On Jan. 18, 26.48% of hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, a 145% increase from Dec. 29.
According to data from DSHS, there were 12,905 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals as of Jan. 19, which was a more than 318% increase from the 3,086 patients on Dec. 19.
McKinney ISD hit a record number of nearly 1,000 active COVID-19 cases on Jan. 19.
The district reported a spike in active cases on Jan. 11, with student cases jumping from 150 to 321, just after the winter break. From Jan. 12 to Jan. 19, student cases increased by more than 100 each day.
As cities and counties saw rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, school districts began to close schools due to staffing shortages.
Grapevine-Colleyville ISD closed all campuses Jan. 20-21 as a result of the high number of positive COVID-19 cases among students and teachers. The district planned for classes to resume on Jan. 24, giving GCISD time to clean and sanitize classrooms.
Classes were not offered online or remotely, and part of the reason for the closure was the lack of substitute teachers available to fill in for sick teachers. On Jan. 19, GCISD reported that only 76 of the requested 169 substitute teacher positions were filled, a 44% fill rate.
Keller ISD, Northwest ISD and Lewisville ISD followed suit, closing schools due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 among students and teachers.
On Jan. 24, Northwest ISD approved paying hourly employees for wages lost during the closures.
“We still need to take care of those folks who clock in for us every day,” NISD Superintendent Ryder Warren said at the meeting. “And they deserve to be paid, we feel.”
Lewisville ISD offered free curbside meals on weekdays while campuses were closed.
Drop in cases
By February, Denton County saw a drop in COVID-19 cases. During the week of Jan. 15, about 13,000 cases were reported. That number dropped to nearly 2,300 for the week ending on Feb. 5.
Juan Rodriguez, the county’s Public Health Department Assistant Director said the positivity rate had decreased in the county and statewide. The positivity rate was at 13%. Previously that rate reached more than 30%.
“We think we have turned the corner a little bit,” Public Health Director Dr. Matt Richardson said. “We’ve had a sharp decline and that is something to be celebrated.”
In Plano ISD, COVID-19 cases were down by more than 50% since Jan. 12. According to the district's COVID-19 dashboard, 737 students and 55 employees were listed with current cases on Feb. 2, amounting to 1.5% of district students and 1.06% of staff members.
By Feb. 24, the PISD case numbers had decreased to 41 students and two employees with cases, amounting to 0.08% of district students and 0.04% of staff members. This is a 94% decrease among students and a more than 96% drop among staff since Feb. 2.
Richardson ISD began focusing its English curriculum on active learning and independent reading.
Interim Superintendent Tabitha Branum said she would update the board over its next four meetings about the district’s plan to tackle curriculum to “close the opportunity and learning gap."
Lindsay Mikulas, RISD’s director of reading and language arts, said the major district goal was to develop students into accomplished readers and writers through direct teaching, group learning alongside classmates and personal reading.
Two-year anniversary of COVID-19
Approaching the two-year anniversary of COVID-19, Denton County announced March 1 masks are no longer recommended indoors due to low transmission rates of the virus. Public Health Director Dr. Matt Richardson said testing positivity rates dropped from 36% to under 5%.
“Locally we are seeing a dramatic decline,” Richardson said.
Anna Herod, Bailey Lewis, Brooklynn Cooper, Christopher Neely, Daniel Houston, Elizabeth Ucles, Emily Davis, Francesca D' Annunzio, Iain Oldman, Ian Pribanic, Jackson King, Kira Lovell, Liesbeth Powers, Makenzie Plusnick, Miranda Jaimes, Olivia Lueckemeyer, Samantha Douty, Samantha Van Dyke, Sandra Sadek, Steven Ryzewski and William C. Wadsack contributed to this report.