The Cherokee County School District in north Georgia has directed 826 students and 42 teachers to quarantine as a result of exposure to COVID-19 after being back to school for only six days.
The district reopened schools without a mask mandate for students. Staff, however, have been required to wear one on school grounds.
“As we said before reopening, social distancing is not possible in all situations at our schools – this is why we require our staff to wear masks or face shields when they cannot distance, and this is why we’re providing masks to students and strongly recommending they wear them,” Superintendent Brian Hightower wrote in a letter to parents on Friday.
“This is a critical component to keeping schools open. Parents need to continue to keep their children home when they’re sick,” Hightower added.
The district’s chief communications officer, Barbara Jacoby said public reporting of these cases is not required but the district has been proactive in explicitly informing the community as the virus may spread.
“As made clear in our reopening of school plan, we anticipated positive tests among students and staff could occur, which is why we put a system into place to quickly contact trace, mandate quarantines, notify parents and report cases and quarantines to the entire community,” Jacoby told Newsweek in an email.
“We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure – even if the positive test was prompted by possible exposure rather than symptoms, as all positive cases can lead to the infection of others,” Jacoby added.
The school with the greatest number of students placed under quarantine is Etowah High School.
As of August 11, 296 high school students and five staff members are being quarantined.
A photo of students from Etowah High School went viral last week as schools across the country begin to reopen during the pandemic. The photo showed incoming seniors posing shoulder-to-shoulder with no masks.
Despite being in the middle of a pandemic, today Etowah High School in Cherokee County started their first day of school.
Here's a seniors photo that was taken this morning. pic.twitter.com/3VwzN3d0pE
— Everything Georgia (@GAFollowers) August 4, 2020
Hightower also addressed the photo, calling it a “snapshot of a moment” that might not “tell the whole story.” Regardless, the superintendent said it is important to address the issue.
“The senior group photos taken outside before school on several of our campuses raised concerns that those students might not be aware of the importance of masks,” Hightower wrote. “Upon investigation, we learned many wear masks routinely, but we must continue to remind all students of the importance of masks when you cannot social distance.”