Cobb County School District posts first COVID data report in weeks

Superintendent of the Cobb County School District Chris Ragsdale and board member David Chastain speak during a Cobb County school board meeting in 2021. On Thursday, Ragsdale said the district would resume posting coronavirus case counts. (Christine Tannous / AJC file photo)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Superintendent of the Cobb County School District Chris Ragsdale and board member David Chastain speak during a Cobb County school board meeting in 2021. On Thursday, Ragsdale said the district would resume posting coronavirus case counts. (Christine Tannous / AJC file photo)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For more than a month, the state’s second-largest school district did not post data on coronavirus case counts among employees and staff.

On Friday, the Cobb County School District resumed its weekly reports — the first posted since Dec. 17. The district reported 1,856 coronavirus cases for the week ending Jan. 21.

That’s nearly 9,000 recorded cases since the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

But the district has not posted case counts for earlier in January, when COVID-19 cases soared across metro Atlanta due to the omicron variant. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has repeatedly requested data for the weeks ending Jan. 7 and 14.

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The district is no longer listing case counts per school, as it had done on previous reports. Those reports did not break down cases involving district employees, such as bus drivers, who work outside of schools.

The new format provides only a total case count, but it’s unclear if the number is based on schools only or all district operations.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told school board members Thursday the case numbers peaked Jan. 5 by date of report. By date of onset, he said the peak was Jan. 1. The district did not respond to a request for data on those days.

“The bottom line is that we are having school,” Ragsdale said. “We are trying to get back to normal as quickly as possible because we know a normal school day for our students is what’s going to benefit them most.”

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In his report to the board, Ragsdale said “most administrations and organizations have encouraged case counts not be the primary emphasis” when it comes to the coronavirus.

He cited statements made last month by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In an interview with MSNBC, Fauci said a critical parameter is how sick people are.

But Fauci did not say case counts weren’t important.

“Very often, you can’t just forget about the number of people who are infected” because it’s a critical indicator “of what might happen with hospitalizations,” Fauci said. “But as you get further on and you see less severity, clearly hospitalizations is the important thing.”

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Data from the state Department of Public Health (DPH) shows that new confirmed and suspected COVID-19 infections are slightly lower than their peak earlier this month. But the rolling average of new infections Thursday was more than 17,600.

But the drop in infections is being led by adults, with school-aged children, those ages 5 to 17, continuing to see growth in the rolling average of new confirmed infections.

On Thursday, DPH reported all-time highs for new infections with rolling averages of 749 for kids ages 5 to 9. For kids 10 to 17, the state reported a rolling average of new infections of 1,504, slightly lower than the all-time high set Wednesday of 1,519.

Though children overall are at lower risk than adults of severe illness from COVID-19, some children do get very sick from the disease.

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Dr. Andi Shane, division chief for pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University, said at a news conference earlier Thursday that children need the protection of vaccines, masks and distancing. They are much less likely to die from COVID-19, but they can contract debilitating conditions from it, such as MIS-C.

Masks remain optional “but strongly encouraged” in the Cobb school district.

After Ragsdale’s comments, board member Jaha Howard asked to discuss coronavirus protocols. Board Chair David Chastain told him he could call the superintendent with any questions later.

“We have the opportunity to discuss it if we feel like it and we’re choosing not to discuss COVID,” Howard said.

Staff writer Cassidy Alexander contributed to this article.