Cherokee quarantines second-grade class after student tests positive for COVID-19

Cherokee County opened its doors Monday. By Tuesday, it had to shutter a second grade classoom where a student tested positive for COVID-19
Cherokee County opened its doors Monday. By Tuesday, it had to shutter a second grade classoom where a student tested positive for COVID-19

In its second day of the new school year, the Cherokee County School District shut down a second-grade classroom at Sixes Elementary School in Canton after a student tested postive for COVID-19

“In accordance with our COVID-19 Exposure and Response Plan, today we notified all Sixes Elementary School parents that a student who attended class there on Monday has tested positive for COVID-19. This is the first COVID-19 positive case reported among our students and staff since we reopened schools on Monday morning,” said Cherokee spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby Tuesday.

Jacoby said the Sixes Elementary student showed no symptoms during school on Monday; when the symptoms began after school, the student’s parents sought medical assistance and testing that resulted in the positive diagnosis. Contact tracing was conducted, and all affected students’ parents were notified.

“Due to this exposure, the affected second-grade classroom will be temporarily closed, and the teacher and 20 other students in the class must quarantine for two weeks. The teacher, who is symptom-free, will teach the class online from home through our Canvas learning management system. The classroom will be deep-cleaned after school today,” she said.

The current recommendation is that children who have been within close contact with a child who has been infected quarantine for 14 days, said Charlene Wong, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Duke School of Medicine. “Children in the same classroom, particularly younger children, will almost certainly meet the criteria for close contact, meaning they’ve been within six feet for 15 minutes with the infected child.”

On Monday, Cherokee became one of the first Georgia districts to resume face-to-face classes. The district’s experience is drawing national scrutiny as other school systems prepare to open later this month or in September.

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“We are still not sure what the best ways to open different schools are,” said Wong, speaking at a recent Duke media briefing on how to safely reopen schools. “This is going to be an opportunity for us to learn and to course correct as we go because we are probably not going to get it right out of the gate…this is the first time we ever tried to do something at this scale across the country. "

More than three-quarters of Cherokee County’s 42,000 students returned to classes Monday, while 23% choose the district’s Digital Learning option in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a decision criticized by some parents and teachers, Cherokee is not requiring students to wear masks, although staff must. “Teachers and staff are required to wear masks whenever they can’t social distance; students are strongly encouraged and recommended to do the same,” said Jacoby. “We provided all teachers with two reusable masks and, if requested, we’re also providing them with plastic face shields; we provided students with two reusable masks as well.”

In a letter to the parents, Sixes principal Ashley Kennerly wrote, “We continue to encourage all parents to temperature scan and monitor students closely for any sign of potential illness. Students should remain at home if they are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, new or persistent cough, headache, loss of taste or smell, fatigue and/or stomach issues.”

These two-week quarantines can challenge working parents who, Wong said, are wondering, “Can I take off the next two weeks from work to watch my child as they’re quarantining at home? If not, can I find a caregiver, a babysitter, a nanny, a grandparent who’d be willing to watch my COVID-19 exposed child?”

“In many ways, these unpredictable two-week quarantines for individual children or classes because of exposure to COVID-19 at school can sometimes cause more chaos for families than what we saw with the blanket closures back in the spring where all of us who were working parents were mostly in the same boat trying to juggle our personal and professional obligations,” said Wong.

Her advice to parents; Prepare for inevitable disruptions as teachers, staff and students unknowingly come to school with COVID-19.