COVID cases in metro Atlanta schools remain high, even as omicron slows

Clarkdale Elementary School wait at a social distance as they prepare to board their school buses after school in Austell in 2020. Coronavirus cases in metro Atlanta school districts remain high even as overall counts across Georgia are down from the record numbers posted in early January. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
Clarkdale Elementary School wait at a social distance as they prepare to board their school buses after school in Austell in 2020. Coronavirus cases in metro Atlanta school districts remain high even as overall counts across Georgia are down from the record numbers posted in early January. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Coronavirus cases in metro Atlanta school districts remain high even as overall counts across Georgia are down from the record numbers posted in early January.

Fourteen metro districts recorded more than 7,500 cases last week, when school was in session only four days due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Fulton County Schools documented nearly 900 positive cases — among its highest totals of the school year. On Monday, the district dropped its mask mandate. Soon after, the Fayette County district also relaxed its policy.

The state’s second-largest school district — Cobb County Public Schools — recorded 1,856 cases, which was the highest count of any of the 14 districts. The district did not indicate whether the number includes students and school employees only or all district staff.

The data posted by some districts, at times, shows large inconsistencies. Because the districts rely on self-reporting, health officials say the case counts are likely far larger than reported.

For instance, Clayton County Public Schools reported 785 staff members tested COVID-19 positive the week of Jan. 3. But the following week, it reported no staff members with COVID, though there were 298 student cases.

The district says it reported no coronavirus cases among staff members the week of Jan. 10 because it didn’t do testing that week. The lack of data meant overall case counts dropped significantly that week.

“As the district mandated COVID-19 testing for all employees Jan. 3-5, the positive cases for staff were reported the previous week,” the district said in a statement. “Therefore there were no new cases to report. The data is accurate.”

ExploreThe latest on how coronavirus is affecting Georgia schools

When asked about the results of positive cases from tests outside of school, the district offered no data, but issued another statement: “Employees are afforded the opportunity to get tested at a location of their preference and continue to report those cases via the Self-Reporting Portal.”

In its most recent report, Clayton reported 158 staff cases and 55 student cases.

Across Georgia, the seven-day rolling average of new confirmed and probable infections for all ages hit its high point Jan. 11 at nearly 21,000 and has declined to about 18,800 as of Monday afternoon.

But the rolling average of infections in school-aged children — those 5 to 17 — remains near its highest point in the pandemic, though that could be in part a function of data lags.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

Test positivity remains high in all ages, including in school-aged children, a sign the state is not capturing the full scale of spread. The test positivity for Georgians aged 5 to 17 was 20.1% for the week ending Jan. 20.

Gwinnett County Public Schools recorded 1,808 cases. That’s down from the 2,528 cases reported the previous week, but still the district’s second-highest count in the 2021-2022 school year.

School districts in Cherokee and Fayette counties saw only a slight decline. In Henry County, the number of coronavirus cases in the school district reported last week was more than double that of the week before.

Below is a summary of the data.

Atlanta Public Schools

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 50,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 2-Jan. 21): 4,173. Breakdown: 3,390 students; 783 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 253 COVID-19 cases from Jan. 15 to Jan. 21: That’s about half the number of cases recorded the previous week. The district’s highest count — 520 — was recorded the week ending Aug. 27.

Buford City Schools

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: About 5,800 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 5-Jan. 21): 563. Breakdown: 487 students, 76 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 26 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 21. The previous week, it reported 45 cases. The district’s highest count — 102 — was recorded the week ending Sept. 3.

Earlier this month, the district said in a statement that it does not “trace or report Home Covid tests,” the website said.

Cherokee County School District

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 42,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 2-Jan. 21): 5,071. Breakdown: 4,211 students, 860 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 492 cases for the week ending Jan. 21. That’s a slight decline from the cases recorded the previous week. The district’s highest case count — 832 — was recorded the week ending Aug. 20.

City Schools of Decatur

Masks: Required

Vaccines: Required for staff, unless exempted; optional for students

Enrollment: Approximately 5,700 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 3-Jan. 21): 286. Breakdown: 234 students, 52 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 37 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 21. That’s down from the 64 cases reported the previous week, which was the district’s highest weekly count of the 2021-2022 school year.

Clayton County Public Schools

Masks: Required

Enrollment: About 52,000

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 5-Jan. 21): 3,203. Breakdown: 1,964 students; 1,239 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 213 COVID-19 cases for the week of Jan. 17: 158 staff, 55 students.

The previous week — Jan. 10-14 — the district recorded 298 cases. All the cases were students, none were staff.

The week earlier, the district reported 827 cases, including 785 staff. That was its highest case count of the 2021-2022 school year.

Cobb County School District

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 107,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 2-Dec. 21): 8,674. (Note: This number does not include the weeks of Jan. 3 and Jan. 10 because the district hasn’t released the data.)

Latest report: The district recorded 1,856 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 21. This is the district’s first weekly report since Dec. 17. It’s unclear whether the number is based on schools only or all district operations.

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.

“Recent changes to our public health protocols, and their impact on accurate COVID-19 case counts, are under review,” the district said in a statement earlier this month. “Once determined, we will provide an update, on our COVID-19 webpage, about what process we will use going forward.”

DeKalb County School District

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 93,500 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 6-Jan. 20): 5,452. Breakdown: 3,886 students; 1,566 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 397 COVID-19 cases from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20. The previous week, the district recorded 569 cases. The highest count — 930 — was recorded the week ending Aug. 20.

Douglas County School System

Masks: Initially required, but now optional, except on buses

Enrollment: Approximately 25,890 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 4-Jan. 20): 2,308. Breakdown: District doesn’t provide that data.

Latest report: The district recorded 337 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 20. That’s only a slight decrease from the 359 cases reported the previous week — its highest case count of the 2021-2022 school year.

Fayette County Public Schools

Masks: Optional, except on buses

Enrollment: Approximately 20,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 2-Jan. 20): 1,351. Breakdown: 1,181 students, 170 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 128 COVID-19 cases from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20. That’s only a slight decrease from the 134 cases recorded the previous week. The highest case count — 266 — was recorded the week ending Aug. 20.

Forsyth County Public Schools

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 53,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 4-Jan. 22): 6,424

Latest report: The school district recorded 869 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 22. That’s its highest case count of the 2021-2022 school year.

Fulton County Schools

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 90,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 9-Jan. 20): 8,546. Breakdown: The district doesn’t break down cases for students and staff.

Latest report: The district recorded 891 COVID-19 cases last week. The district’s highest case count — 1,160 — was recorded from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6.

Gwinnett County Public Schools

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 179,600 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 4-Jan. 23): 14,703. Breakdown: 12,413 students; 2,290 staff

Latest report: The district reported 1,808 COVID-19 cases from Jan. 18 to Jan. 23. The previous week, it recorded 2,528 cases — the district’s highest total of the 2021-2022 school year.

Henry County School District

Masks: Required in all indoor spaces “when responsible” social distancing isn’t possible

Enrollment: Approximately 43,000 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 4-Jan. 21): 2,849. Breakdown: 2,221 students; 628 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 157 COVID cases for the week ending Jan. 24. That’s more than double the 67 cases recorded the previous week. The district’s highest case count — 480 — was recorded the week ending Aug. 20.

Marietta City Schools

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 8,700 students

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (Aug. 3-Jan. 21): 1,050. Breakdown: 834 students, 217 staff

Latest report: The district recorded 133 cases for the week ending Jan. 21. That’s a slight decline from the 157 cases recorded the previous week.