Four Georgia Districts Stop In-Person Classes Due to COVID

Jeff Amy

August 12, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) — Four tiny Georgia public school districts have temporarily shut down in-person instruction within days of starting school, saying high COVID-19 case counts among students and staff makes it unsafe to continue.

Other districts have closed individual schools or sent hundreds of students into quarantine after exposure to people with COVID-19.

The 1100-student Macon County district on Wednesday became the fourth district to suspend in-person classes, following the smaller Taliaferro, Glascock, and Talbot counties in recent days. The four districts combined serve a fraction of 1% of Georgia's 1.7 million students.

"The difference now in this outbreak that we see than the outbreak that happened last school year is that this seems to be more centered on kids, rather than adults, so that scares me to death," Talbot County Superintendent Jack Catrett told WTVM-TV.

The moves show the difficulty of keeping schools open as COVID-19 surges across Georgia, despite the determination of local school leaders to focus on in-person classes this year.

Clayton County stopped in-person instruction at an elementary school because of COVID-19. In the Savannah-Chatham district, 230 of the district's 36,000 students have tested positive, while more than 1100 students have been quarantined because of exposure. Of roughly 5000 employees, 36 have tested positive and another 72 are quarantined. Sumter County quarantined unvaccinated high school football players.

Catrett said it was necessary to close the entire district because all grades share the same building in the 500-student district. Talbot students are relying on paper packets to work remotely, while other districts have issued computers for students to take home.

"It's terrible not to have them here. When you walk through our halls it's sad, there's no children," Catrett told WRBL-TV. The district is supposed to return to in-person classes on Monday, but Catrett said the closure could be extended based on contact tracing.

Larger districts, though, are determined to keep teaching in person.

"We worked really hard to get to 5 days a week and that's what we're going to stay," Savannah-Chatham Superintendent Ann Levett told WTOC-TV, adding that "we're not going to do that at the risk of detriment to health and safety."

Georgia's case count continues to rise, with the 7-day rolling average climbing above 5600 on Wednesday, the worst since February 1. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals is also rising rapidly, exceeding 3800 on Wednesday even as many hospital executives warn they don't have enough beds and staff to care for surging patients loads.

The 7-day average for the share of positive molecular tests hit 15.7% on Wednesday, far above the 5% average that experts say means there is enough testing to detect most virus cases. The number of deaths is also rising again, getting close to 22,000 statewide since the pandemic began.

Gov. Brian Kemp in the last week visited schools in Ball Ground and Jesup, highlighting places where children aren't being required to wear masks. But the number of public school students required to wear a mask continues to creep up statewide. Wednesday, the 90,000-student Fulton County district announced that case rates are now high enough for all students to be required to cover their faces, revoking the option that about 15,000 students had in Johns Creek to forgo masks.

At least 38 districts statewide are requiring masks, according to an Associated Press count, covering more than 766,000 students, or about 45% of public school students statewide.

Kemp on Wednesday repeated that he would let local schools make those decisions.

"We're trusting our local schools, the local school boards, to work and listen with their parents," Kemp said in a Fox News interview.

Kemp acknowledged the state's lagging vaccination rate, but said he wouldn't change state policy.

"My message to folks is do your due diligence, make a good healthcare decision for yourself," Kemp said. "But I don't believe mandating vaccines or masks or anything else is going to work at this point."

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