The largest school district in the state reported Sunday that 260 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus or are in quarantine because of possible exposure as they prepare for the new school year.
Gwinnett County Public School teachers began in-person pre-planning Wednesday at the 141 facilities throughout the county. By the next day, approximately 260 employees had been excluded from work due to a positive case or contact with a case.
The number is fluid, said Gwinnett spokeswoman Sloan Roach, as new reports come in and others move out of quarantine after a period of time.
“Through tracing, we know that the majority of these cases are the result of community spread, meaning we have people who have called in to report who have not been at school or work,” Roach added.
Gwinnett County has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the state. As of Sunday, there have been 17,781 positive cases in Gwinnett with 1,996 hospitalizations and 240 deaths.
“Given the number of COVID cases in Gwinnett, we would expect to see positives among our employees based on the community spread in our county,” Roach said.
That’s part of the reason that Ashley Newman decided to resign from teaching at a Gwinnett elementary — the job she loves. The decision and its toll haven’t been easy.
“I applied for the government funding where I could get two-thirds of my pay for 12 weeks, but I was denied,” she said.
Newman has a 4-year-old daughter who would’ve been too young to come to school with her. Although her day care is open, it has 16 children registered and that’s more students than Newman is comfortable with.
With the most recent surge in cases reported in Gwinnett County, she said it was the only option given that the school district won’t allow teachers to work from home.
Teachers have complained that even without children present, their health is at risk. There are several petitions circulating asking Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks to reverse that decision.
“We have reporting and tracing processes in place. We also have a protocol for excluding employees who are positive or are a contact,” said Roach. “In addition, there are protocols for making reports to the Health Department when there are two or more related cases.”
Since Friday afternoon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has received hundreds of phone calls, texts, emails and instant messages from Gwinnett teachers who asked to remain anonymous.
In-person training and meetings are taking place without areas being wiped down or disinfected in between and masks aren’t being worn at all times, said several teachers who didn’t disclose their names when contacting the AJC. Others added that their school still hadn’t received any hand sanitizer.
However, Roach said guidelines for schools, which include cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, are being followed.
“I personally know of at least 16 schools with outbreaks and teachers have only been back for three days,” said Newman.
Her husband has been a firefighter/paramedic for nearly seven years and he’s trained for dealing with health issues, she said.
“I’m trained to teach. I’m not a health care expert,” Newman said. “In April, we were called heroes and people were saying we need raises. Now we’re called lazy because we just want to be safe doing our jobs.”