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Kemp, Woods renew push for in-person classes in school

Cobb County schools announced Thursday that the school year will start fully online Aug.17.
Cobb County schools announced Thursday that the school year will start fully online Aug.17.

Gov. Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods joined Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, head of the Georgia Department of Public Health, held a new conference at the state Capitol on Friday, where they reiterated their commitment to in-person school this fall.

Although at least four school districts — Cobb, Marietta, Douglas and Rockdale — announced this week the first semester would be all-virtual instruction, Kemp gave no indication that he was ready to make that a statewide mandate.

Georgia is considered a hot spot for an increase in positive cases. The state leaders said they are weighing health risks with economic factors.

“We have to protect livelihoods of people in our state,” said Kemp. “We are fighting two battles.”

As of Friday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported more than 135,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state as well as 3,132 deaths.

The state is seeing an increase in the spread of COVID-19, Toomey said, and not just in major cities.

Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb collectively have the highest number of cases over past three weeks — 26% of all new cases in the state. But Gwinnett, the largest school district in the state, is the only one of the three that hasn’t mandated distance learning.

“There will be some cases of COVID-19 among students, teachers and the community as a whole,” said Toomey. “We’re doing everything we can to get the resources need to protect everyone.”

Schools will receive allotments of personal protection equipment such as masks and gloves and hand sanitizer, Toomey said. Local public health departments and the state health department has vowed to follow up on infections with a team of about 1,300 contact tracers.

“I’ve opened school 22 times in my career,” said Woods. “I can guarantee you kids will be safe. Teachers will be safe.”

But some parents and teachers weren’t so sure, as evidenced by comments posted on Kemp’s Facebook live post of news conference.

“The reason we can’t open schools is because of YOUR POLICY. YOU did not follow CDC guidelines. We opened too fast and you won’t make people wear masks,” posted Caron McWilliams Gordon.