COVID cases in metro Atlanta schools surpass 24,000 in first weeks

School bus riders finish their school day and start their ride home in Cherokee County on Thursday, Sept 2, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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School bus riders finish their school day and start their ride home in Cherokee County on Thursday, Sept 2, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Metro Atlanta school districts recorded more than 24,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the school year, according to the latest data reports.

As of Saturday, the cumulative case count for 14 area districts was 24,507.

The overall total for last week alone was nearly 6,000. Some districts saw their case counts drop due to a shortened week of classes timed to the Labor Day holiday.

Multiple districts continue to move schools or grades to remote learning on a temporary basis due to an increase of COVID-19 cases or individuals in quarantine. Districts are also facing shortages in teachers, school nurses, bus drivers and other staff due to outbreaks.

Parents continue to express frustration with the lack of uniformity in how districts record COVID-19 data as well as how they are notified when classes or schools pivot to virtual learning.

Some districts do not make public announcements. But others, including school systems in Clayton, Fulton and Henry counties, post notices on social media, district websites and elsewhere.

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Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris of the DeKalb County School District speaks at a news conference about the COVID-19 cases at an elementary school on Sept. 2, 2021. (LEON STAFFORD / AJC)

Credit: Leon Stafford

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris of the DeKalb County School District speaks at a news conference about the COVID-19 cases at an elementary school on Sept. 2, 2021. (LEON STAFFORD / AJC)

Credit: Leon Stafford

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Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris of the DeKalb County School District speaks at a news conference about the COVID-19 cases at an elementary school on Sept. 2, 2021. (LEON STAFFORD / AJC)

Credit: Leon Stafford

Credit: Leon Stafford

The DeKalb County School District took the unusual step of holding a news conference last week to announce Oak View Elementary School was moving to virtual learning temporarily after 18 students tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 100 individuals were in quarantine.

“We feel this is the best decision for this school community at this time,” Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said.

Below is a summary of the latest coronavirus data and news from Atlanta area districts. Districts do not post information in a uniform way. Health experts say the data is likely underreported.

Atlanta Public Schools

Masks: Required

First day: Aug. 5

Enrollment: Approximately 51,000 students.

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 1,555

Last report: For the week ending Sept. 3, the district reported 380 COVID-19 cases: 348 students, 38 staff.

Buford City Schools

Masks: Optional

School start: Aug. 4

Enrollment: About 5,525 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 304

Latest report: For the week ending Sept. 3, the district recorded 102 confirmed COVID-19 cases: 92 students, 10 staff. A week earlier, the case count was 101.

Cherokee County School District

Masks: Optional

School start: Aug. 2

Enrollment: Approximately 41,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 2,737

Latest report: For the week ending Sept. 3, the district recorded 504 confirmed COVID-19 cases: 424 students, 80 staff. The highest numbers to date were reported the third week of August, with 832 cases.

City Schools of Decatur

Masks: Required

Start date: Aug. 3

Enrollment: Approximately 5,700 students.

Total COVID-19 cases, as of Sept. 3: 66

Latest report: For the week ending Sept. 3, the district reported 13 COVID-19 cases: 12 students, 1 staff member.

Clayton County School District

Masks: Required

Start date: Aug. 5

Enrollment: More than 50,000

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 1,045

Latest report: The district reported 227 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Sept. 3. Of those, 211 were students, 16 were staff.

Note: Since the beginning of the school year, nearly two dozen schools in the district temporarily pivoted to online learning due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Cobb County School District

Masks: Optional

Start date: Aug. 2

Enrollment: Approximately 107,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 2: 3,645

Latest report: Data for the week ending Sept. 3 showed 937 school-by-school cases and another 10 cases of unknown sources, but likely staff outside of schools. Cobb’s weekly data only lists school-by-school data. Unlike other school districts, Cobb does not offer a weekly breakdown of COVID-19 cases among non-school staff.

The district posts a cumulative count that includes non-school staff, but it dates back to July rather than the start of school. But an analysis of the weekly changes in that data offers a glimpse at the additional cases.

The school district remains mask-optional, though many parents have asked for a stricter policy. On Tuesday, the Cobb County health board also voiced its support for mask mandates in all county schools. It also called on all eligible individuals to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

DeKalb County School District

Masks: Required

School start: Aug. 2

Enrollment: Approximately 93,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 2: 2,179

Latest report: The district recorded 368 cases from Aug. 27-Sept. 2. Of those, 311 were students, 57 were staff. DeKalb recently updated its format for reporting coronavirus cases to give a truer picture of the week to week totals.

Douglas County School System

Masks: Required

Start date: Aug. 4

Enrollment: Approximately 26,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 2: 848

Latest report: The school district recorded 273 for cases from August 27- Sept. 2, which is a slight increase from the previous week.

Fayette County Public Schools

Masks: Required Aug. 27-Sept. 17

Start date: Aug. 2

Enrollment: Approximately 20,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 758

Latest report: The district’s latest report covers Aug. 28-Sept. 3. During that time the district recorded 110 COVID-19 cases: 91 students, 19 staff.

Forsyth County Public Schools

Masks: Optional

School start: Aug. 5

Enrollment: Approximately 51,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases, as of Sept. 4: 2,862

Latest weekly report: The district recorded 729 new cases of COVID-19 from Aug. 29-Sept. 4. This district also posts daily reports of active cases. Last week the highest case count was 950 on Aug. 29. The lowest count was 776 was on Aug. 30.

Fulton County Public Schools

Masks: Required

Start date: Aug. 9

Enrollment: Approximately 94,400 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 2: 2,589

Latest report: The district’s latest report covers Aug. 27-Sept. 2. During that time, the district recorded 675 coronavirus cases. The district’s report also says that 25,465 staff and students had direct contact with another employee or students who has been deemed COVID-19 positive. The district deems an entire class or bus a potential contact when at least one individual tests positive for the coronavirus.

Gwinnett County Public Schools

Masks: Required

Start date: Staggered, beginning Aug. 4

Enrollment: Approximately 177,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 3,847

Latest report: For the week ending Sept. 3, the district recorded 1,159 COVID-19 cases: 1,054 students, 105 staff. Among the schools with the highest case counts were Mill Creek High School, Osborne Middle School and South Gwinnett High School.

Henry County School District

Masks: Required as of Aug. 9

Start date: Aug. 4

Enrollment: Approximately 43,000 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 1,682

Latest report: The district recorded 417 COVID-19 cases for the week ending Sept. 3. Of those, 364 were students and 53 were staff. The count is a slight decrease from the previous week.

Marietta City Schools

Masks: Required, as of Aug. 23

Start date: Aug. 3

Enrollment: Approximately 8,900 students

Total COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 3: 390

Latest report: In its report for the week ending Sept. 3, the district recorded 62 COVID-19 cases: 56 students, 6 staff. This is a significant decrease from the previous week’s report of 153 cases.

This story has been updated. Staff writer Leon Stafford contributed to this report.