Metro Atlanta schools record nearly 4,000 COVID cases in new reports

Students exit their buses during the first day of school in the Cobb County School District on August 2, 2021. Masks are optional but "strongly encouraged" in the district. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Students exit their buses during the first day of school in the Cobb County School District on August 2, 2021. Masks are optional but "strongly encouraged" in the district. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Fourteen school districts across metro Atlanta recorded nearly 4,000 cases of the coronavirus as of Friday, prompting some systems to update the health safety protocols put in place earlier this month.

Within days of opening classrooms, school districts in at least nine Georgia counties temporarily shifted to online learning due to the COVID-19 outbreaks: Burke, Ben Hill, Crisp, Glascock, Long, Macon, Randolph, Talbot and Taliaferro. In some cases, teachers are posting assignments, but there are no live online classes.

At least two districts — Echols County and Evans County — delayed the start of the new school year due to coronavirus concerns.

But the Ware County School District opted to suspend school operations altogether due to the number of cases and quarantines. Students aren’t scheduled to return to school until Sept. 7.

In the Atlanta area, five Clayton County schools switched to online learning, while fifth graders at a Cobb County school were sent home this week and told classes would be digital until Aug. 23.

The numbers continue to grow.

Other districts imposed mask mandates. Forsyth County Schools, which initially said it wouldn’t post data on coronavirus cases reversed itself and pledge to post daily reports. It’s also resuming contract tracing in classrooms, the superintendent said in a letter to parents on Friday.

Despite growing case counts, districts requiring masks face vocal opposition from many parents. In response to the outcry, Fulton County is planning a mask-optional campus. That news came just hours after the district expanded its mask mandate to all buildings.

Below is a summary of the latest coronavirus data and news from Atlanta area districts. Note that districts do not post information in a uniform way. For instance, data from some districts focus on new COVID-19 cases. Others focus on active cases, which means the count might overlap from one report to the next.

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Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring urged employees and eligible students to get vaccinated during a Thursday news conference at Jeans Child Young Middle School in southwest Atlanta. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

Credit: Vanessa McCray

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring urged employees and eligible students to get vaccinated during a Thursday news conference at Jeans Child Young Middle School in southwest Atlanta. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

Credit: Vanessa McCray

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Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring urged employees and eligible students to get vaccinated during a Thursday news conference at Jeans Child Young Middle School in southwest Atlanta. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

Credit: Vanessa McCray

Credit: Vanessa McCray

Atlanta Public Schools

A week after school began, officials in Atlanta Public Schools touted vaccines as a way to preserve in-person learning.

Superintendent Lisa Herring on Thursday urged eligible students and staff to get vaccinated. Across the district, 19% of more than 21,000 eligible APS students were vaccinated by late last month.

For the week ending Friday, APS recorded 224 cases of the coronavirus: 179 students and 45 staff.

Jackson High School, which reported 13 cases, was the only facility in double digits. Twelve of those cases were students.

COVID-19 cases: 224 cases recorded in Aug. 7-Aug. 13 report

Total cases reported since July 31: 314

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Around 51,000 students

Buford City Schools

Buford City Schools reported 30 active cases of the coronavirus as of Friday. The cases involved 22 students, 8 staff.

Bufford Middle School documented the highest numbers with 13 cases. Eleven were students, two were staff.

This was the school district’s first COVID-19 report. In an Aug. 11 statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a spokeswoman said: “If our numbers increase to more than 10 positive cases a weekly update will be posted to our district website’s COVID-19 information page.”

COVID-19 cases: 30 active cases as of Aug. 13.

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: 5,525

Cherokee County School District

The Cherokee County School District reported 565 active coronavirus cases in the week that ended Friday. A week earlier, it recorded 196 active cases.

“Cases are considered active for a minimum of 10 days, so some cases may be reported on two consecutive reports, depending on when the positive test result was communicated to CCSD,” said a statement on the district’s website.

Case counts were in doubt digits at many schools, including 57 at E.T. Booth Middle School, 55 at Woodstock High School and 45 at Etowah High School.

Masks remain optional in the district.

The district’s data report does not say how many individuals are quarantined. The district “is not requiring quarantines for close contacts in the school setting,” according to its website.

Data from the 2020-21 school year in which CCSD issued more than 22,000 required quarantines to students and staff show that less than 1% of those close contacts resulted in a positive case,” the website said.

COVID-19 cases: 565 cases as of Aug. 13.

Total cases since first of school year: 761

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 41,000 students

City Schools of Decatur

City Schools of Decatur reported 13 positive cases last week. Ten cases were students, three were staff.

The district previously reported 10 cases from Aug. 3-6.

COVID-19 cases: 13 cases reported from Aug. 9-13

Total since first day of school: 23

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 5,700

Clayton County School District

Clayton County reported 158 cases of the coronavirus in the week ending Aug. 6. All but 43 were students. The district does not break down data by school.

At least five of the district’s schools switched to virtual learning this month due to a surge in coronavirus cases. The latest, Kendrick Middle School in Jonesboro, will hold virtual-only learning until Aug. 30, the district announced Sunday.

“As a reminder, the school district will continue to make decisions based on the best interest of all students and employees while monitoring ongoing matters relative to the pandemic,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, the school district said that Church Street Elementary School in Riverdale was pivoting to virtual learning until Aug. 30. A day earlier, Kemp Primary School went virtual for the rest of the week.

Pointe South Middle School and North Clayton High School began the academic year last week virtually because of COVID-19 related illnesses. Both are back to face-to-face instruction, a schools spokesman said.

COVID-19 cases: 158 cases

Masks: Required

Enrollment: More than 50,000

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A demonstrator (right) demanding mask-mandate confronts a counter-protester at a rally in the parking lot of Cobb County School District's headquarters on Aug. 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A demonstrator (right) demanding mask-mandate confronts a counter-protester at a rally in the parking lot of Cobb County School District's headquarters on Aug. 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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A demonstrator (right) demanding mask-mandate confronts a counter-protester at a rally in the parking lot of Cobb County School District's headquarters on Aug. 12, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Cobb County School District

Masks remain optional in Cobb Schools and last week parents held a rally calling for a stricter policy. The scene became tense as they were met by a smaller group who wants masks to remain optional.

One group held signs that said “science is real; masks in class,” while the others said “masks protect nothing.”

As the debate wages, the coronavirus case count continues to soar, particularly in elementary schools.

The district recorded 551 overall active coronavirus cases as of Friday. That’s nearly three times the number reported a week earlier.

The district now reports 319 active cases in elementary schools, 91 in middle schools and 141 in high schools.

East Side Elementary reported the highest case count with 46. On Wednesday, that school’s fifth grade class moved to virtual learning through Aug. 20.

COVID-19 cases: 555 active cases, as of Aug. 13

Masks: Optional, but “strongly encouraged”

Enrollment: Approximately 107,000 students

DeKalb County School District

The DeKalb County School District only provides cumulative totals dating back to July 1.

On Aug. 6, the district reported 213 cases. Last Friday, it reported 502 cases.

That means over a week’s time, the district recorded 289 active cases. Of those, 363 were students, 139 were staff.

COVID-19 cases: 289 active cases from Aug. 6 to Aug. 13

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 93,000

Douglas County School System

The Douglas County School system reported 93 new cases for the week ending Aug. 13.

That’s up 13 cases from the previous report, which spanned July 28 to Aug. 5.

Masks were mandated early in August after a 17-year-old student in the district reportedly died with COVID-19.

COVID-19 cases: 93 new cases as of Aug. 13.

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 26,000 students

Fayette County Public Schools

The Fayette County district reported 173 positive cases of the coronavirus for the week ending Friday.

“Positive cases reflect those staff or students who reported to work, school or school activities,” the district said in a statement.

The cases involved 157 students and 16 staff. The highest count was at McIntosh High School, where 35 individuals were recorded with COVID-19 and dozens of individuals faced quarantines.

COVID-19 cases: 173 cases from Aug. 7 to Aug. 13

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: 19,955, as of October of 2020

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Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden speaks at orientation for new Forsyth County teachers at Denmark High School in Alpharetta, Georgia, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden speaks at orientation for new Forsyth County teachers at Denmark High School in Alpharetta, Georgia, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

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Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden speaks at orientation for new Forsyth County teachers at Denmark High School in Alpharetta, Georgia, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Forsyth County Public Schools

On Friday, Superintendent Jeff Bearden reported 330 cases of the coronavirus in district schools, which warranted an update in mitigation strategies.

“Beginning today, the district is resuming contract tracing in classrooms,” Bearden said in a statement. He said the district will also post daily reports on COVID-19 cases.

The district’s new reporting policy is an about-face. Earlier, the district said it would not be posting data on coronavirus cases.

“Unless directed otherwise by the Department of Public Health or the Governor’s Office, we are not planning on contact tracing, quarantining healthy kids, or reporting daily positive cases on the district website,” the earlier message said.

In his latest statement, Bearden commented on he had expected the school year to be different this year.

At the end of last school year, he said: “We were all feeling optimistic that the end of this pandemic was in sight. Unfortunately, that is not our current reality.”

COVID-19 cases: 330 cases as of Aug. 13

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 51,000

Fulton County Public Schools

In its latest report, the Fulton County district recorded 306 cases of the coronavirus among students and staff from Aug. 6 to last Thursday.

Last week, the district expanded its mask mandate to all campuses. But it also announced plans for a mask-optional campus in response to parents who don’t want their children wearing face coverings.

A mask-optional “learning hub” would serve up to 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. It would be located at the recently vacated Crabapple Middle School in Roswell.

“A vast majority of children and adults will be just fine if/when they contract COVID-19, but our priority is to maintain high-quality, uninterrupted, face-to-face instruction,” Superintendent Mike Looney said in a Friday Twitter post.

COVID-19 cases: 306 cases recorded from Aug. 6-Aug. 13

Masks: Required in schools located in areas with high COVID-19 case counts

Enrollment: Around 94,4000

Gwinnett County Public Schools

Georgia’s largest school district recorded 679 new cases of the coronavirus from Aug. 4 to last Thursday. Of those, 603 were students, 76 were staff.

The district reported 503 active cases of COVID-19 through Friday.

None of the 80 students who reported on Aug. 4 that they’d tested positive for COVID-19 had been to their schools in person, said Bernard Watson, a spokesman for the school district. Many of the other students who reported testing positive in the first week had not set foot in their schools, he said.

COVID-19 cases: 679 new cases from Aug. 4 to Aug. 12

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 177,000

Henry County School District

The Henry County School District reported 822 individuals in quarantine in data posted today.

In addition, the district also reported 245 cases of the coronavirus: 46 students, 23 staff. Of those, 202 cases are students, 43 are staff.

The district does not identify cases by school.

Masks were initially optional, but last week the district changed its policy and issued a mask mandate.

On Monday, the district began using “bridge” teachers to keep students with COVID-19 or quarantined because of the disease up-to-speed on classwork. The south metro Atlanta school system said the program assigns teachers to students working remotely because of the coronavirus to free classroom educators from trying to teach in-school and online simultaneously.

COVID-19 cases: 245 cases, as of Aug. 16

Masks: Required

Enrollment: Approximately 43,000

Marietta City Schools

Marietta City Schools reported 54 active cases of the coronavirus as of Friday: 45 students, 9 staff.

That’s double the case count from the previous week’s report.

COVID-19 cases: 54 cases as of Aug. 13.

Masks: Optional

Enrollment: Approximately 8,900

This story has been updated.

Staff writers Kristal Dixon, Alia Malik, Vanessa McCray, Leon Stafford and Ty Tagami contributed to this report.

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