A Mississippi school district has ordered 116 students to self-quarantine after six students and a teacher tested positive for COVID-19 following the resumption of in-person classes last week, a district spokesperson said.
The confirmed cases involve five high school students, a middle school student and an elementary school staff member in the Corinth School District, just south of the Tennessee border, where classes resumed on July 27. The quarantined students make up about 4% of the district’s population, according to figures the district provided to HuffPost.
In a video address on Facebook Tuesday, Superintendent Dr. Lee Childress said the confirmed COVID-19 cases were not unexpected and won’t affect the district’s decision to keep schools open.
“This pandemic is not going to go away within the next several months,” Childress said while emphasizing the need to return to “some sort of normalcy” for the sake of students and working parents.
The Mississippi Department of Education gave its public schools three options on how to resume classes this fall, using either a traditional schedule, a hybrid schedule or a virtual schedule.
Corinth School District gave parents the option of having their children either take classes remotely or follow the “traditional model,” in which classes function in person while adhering to guidelines set by the state’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under these guidelines, teachers and students are required to wear masks in common areas, including classrooms, and to undergo daily temperature screenings. Lunch is also being served in classrooms instead of school cafeterias, and students who ride on school buses have assigned seating, according to the district.
Childress applauded his district’s handling of the school season thus far and said the confirmed cases only prove that the district’s contract tracing system works. He also shared his belief that those who contracted the virus likely did so outside of the school setting.
“But either way, it doesn’t matter if you get the COVID-19 at school or the community. It’s something that we have to deal with and it’s something that we have to recognize is going to continue,” he said.
Across the country, schools have been grappling with the decision of whether or not to resume in-person classes over COVID-19 fears.
In Gwinnett County, Georgia, the state’s largest school district, it was reported Wednesday that around 260 district employees had either tested positive or had been exposed to the virus and will have to quarantine ahead of the start of the fall semester next week.
Gwinnett County has decided to offer all-digital classes beginning Aug. 12, though staff members were still required to physically report to work last week for pre-planning activities.
In Georgia’s Paulding and Cherokee counties, in-person classes resumed this week and made national news after highly controversial photos emerged showing students packing a school’s hallway without face masks. Students who shared the photos were reportedly suspended.
Paulding County Superintendent Brian Otott said students were only in the hallway for a “brief period” while transitioning between classes. He also said there is “no practical way” to force students to wear masks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, has voiced support for students returning to school but has also cautioned that not every region of the country can safely do so.
“I think to say every child has to go back to school is not really realizing the fact that we have such a diversity of viral activity. There may some sections of the country where the viral activity is so low you don’t have to do anything different, you can just send the children back to school,” Fauci said in a webinar Monday hosted by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.
Recently, states in the U.S. South and Southwest have seen the highest number of new coronavirus cases per capita. They’ve also had the highest growth in newly reported deaths over the last two weeks, according to data from state and local health agencies and hospitals compiled by The New York Times.
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