Just days into the new school year, thousands of kids are under quarantine in public school districts across the U.S. after being exposed to COVID-19.
Cases and hospitalizations among children are on the rise, with the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus making up about 90% of new infections among kids, according to experts. Children under 12 are currently ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, making schools a potentially dangerous environment.
While parents and school officials around the country are battling about back-to-school COVID safety measures, schools are being overwhelmed with the task of keeping kids safe while attending class in-person.
In the last week:
- New Orleans School District saw 299 active COVID cases and more than 3,000 students and staff in quarantine, according to district data.
- Ware County in Georgia closed all its public schools due to a “sharp increase” in cases. More than 800 students and faculty are quarantining, local outlet News4JAX reported.
- 20,000 students are quarantining across the state of Mississippi, a public health official announced.
- Schools in Texas counties shut down due to a shortage of staff members who are under quarantine.
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In Texas this week, four school districts where masking is optional have temporarily closed due to COVID outbreaks on campus. The closures come as school administrators in other parts of the state have continued to defy anti-mask mandate orders and require students to mask up.
The district in Gorman, Texas, was supposed to start school this week but decided to delay for a week because there were too many active cases among students and staff.
“This decision was not made lightly or quickly, and it was made with the best interest of all students, staff, and parents’ safety in mind,” Gorman Superintendent Mike Winter said.
Two other school districts in the state, in Bloomberg and Waskom, shut down temporarily after the first week of classes because there were too many staff members out with COVID. Another district, Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District in West Texas, shut down on Monday for two weeks so students and staff could quarantine.
Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida announced that nearly 6,000 students and staff members were out due to quarantine, necessitating an emergency board meeting to discuss how to prevent further spread, including putting mandatory masking on the table.
Nearly 1,400 students and staff reported positive COVID tests since school started on Aug. 10, according to district data. The district has more than 200,000 students.
Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said on Tuesday there are about 20,000 students under quarantine statewide due to COVID exposure. That amounts to 4.5% of the state’s public school population.
“These disruptions … are going to continue for a while,” Byers said.
Last week 13-year-old eighth grader Mkayla Robinson became the fifth child in the state of Mississippi to die of COVID since the start of the pandemic. The Raleigh girl died one day after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Smith County School District Superintendent Nick Hillman said her mother kept her home last Thursday because she wasn’t feeling well, and she died Saturday.
She attended Raleigh High School, which has been in session since Aug. 6. On Tuesday Smith County School District reported 104 new COVID cases and 659 quarantines.
About 750 students and 40 staff members are in quarantine in the New Albany Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. in Indiana after either testing positive or coming in contact with someone who tested positive.
Most of the staff in quarantine in that district are auxiliary, according to Superintendent Brad Snyder. The staff shortages have caused the district to miss two or three bus routes per day.
Also in Indiana, Scott County Schools District 1 closed school and transitioned to online classes beginning Aug. 11 “due to the high rate of positive cases and the extremely high rate of students in quarantine,” it announced on Facebook. In-person learning is scheduled to resume Aug. 23.
In Kentucky, Lee County Public Schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson announced schools would temporarily close at the beginning of this week.
“This will be a tough year and we don’t want to have to shut down this early, but if we can determine who is positive now we believe we can stay in school longer,” Wasson said.
Contributing: The Clarion Ledger, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Associated Press