Lovett School grad at ceremony reportedly tests positive for COVID

Safety precautions, including wearing of masks and social distancing, were taken during a graduation ceremony at the Lovett School on Thursday. The school has since learned that a graduate who attended may have been asymptomatic. (Photo courtesy of Lovett School)
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Safety precautions, including wearing of masks and social distancing, were taken during a graduation ceremony at the Lovett School on Thursday. The school has since learned that a graduate who attended may have been asymptomatic. (Photo courtesy of Lovett School)

Lovett School officials plan to take steps Monday to prevent another coronavirus outbreak as they await confirmation of a report that a student at Thursday’s graduation ceremony tested positive.

The event took place outdoors at the football stadium with pandemic precautions, including mandatory masks, ample space for social distancing and attendance limited to immediate family members and a small group of trustees and staff.

The gathering came less than three months after a drive-in celebration at the Buckhead private school saw several students later test positive for COVID-19, with infections believed to have happened at off-campus social events following the celebration. At least 18 cases have been linked to that outbreak.

The school has learned that a graduate who attended Thursday’s event apparently tested positive for COVID-19, a spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday. The student had taken a test prior to the ceremony for college admissions purposes, but learned afterward that the result was positive.

Along with requiring masks to be worn, the Lovett School limited attendance of Thursday's graduation ceremony to graduates, their immediate family members and a small group of trustees and staff. (Photo courtesy of Lovett School)
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Along with requiring masks to be worn, the Lovett School limited attendance of Thursday's graduation ceremony to graduates, their immediate family members and a small group of trustees and staff. (Photo courtesy of Lovett School)

However, the school has not been notified by the student’s family nor received any official notification from the state or county health department, Lovett spokeswoman Courtney Fowler said in an email.

“We have been made aware that there may have been a Lovett graduate in attendance who was asymptomatic,” Fowler said. “As it is the weekend, we are awaiting official confirmation and will follow up with the pertinent departments of health on Monday for more information and then notify attendees of these results.”

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Photos of the graduation ceremony on Facebook show students and most attendees wearing masks, with wide spaces between student seating and space between groups sitting in the bleachers.

“Guests were asked to exit campus immediately following the event, as the school did not host any celebratory gatherings after the graduation ceremony,” the spokeswoman told the AJC. “Leading up to the ceremony, families and graduates received multiple communications outlining various health precautions and guidelines, including staying home if anyone exhibited any symptoms of the virus.”

The situation now facing Lovett, despite those safeguards, could be a bellwether of challenges for schools gradually returning to in-person classes, according to Colin Smith, past president of the Georgia Public Health Association and a clinical assistant professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health.

Pointing to the lack of surges in cities where crowds gathered to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Smith said he would not be “overly concerned” if he had been at an outdoor, masks-required event and later learned of an asymptomatic attendee.

“They did everything they could within their power, besides canceling the event,” Smith said of Lovett. “I’m more concerned what people are doing outside scheduled events, honestly.”

Photos posted on the Lovett School's Facebook page show graduates and most attendees wearing masks, with wide spaces between student seating and space between groups sitting in the bleachers. (Photo courtesy of Lovett School)
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Photos posted on the Lovett School's Facebook page show graduates and most attendees wearing masks, with wide spaces between student seating and space between groups sitting in the bleachers. (Photo courtesy of Lovett School)

After-parties were apparently what spurred the last coronavirus outbreak connected to a Lovett event.

The prestigious K-12 school on Paces Ferry Road closed in mid-March and transitioned to online instruction amid the coronavirus pandemic. Then on May 17, Lovett held drive-in festivities for the Class of 2020. Social media posts showed some students sitting together in a truck bed. Other photos showed groups of Lovett students together in close quarters after the event.

Five days later, Lovett Head of School Meredyth Cole and Head Nurse Shana Horan said in an email to parents that a graduating senior who attended the drive-in had tested positive for COVID-19. Cole and Horan wrote to parents the next day that the number of confirmed cases had grown to “several” students.

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It’s still unclear how many cases were tied to that outbreak, but Dr. Lynn Paxton, district director for the Fulton County Board of Health, said it likely resulted from subsequent social gatherings.

Paxton also told the AJC that the school frustrated contact tracers working to cut off the spread, with some parents not picking up the phone when they called and a private physician tied to the school leading an investigation without keeping the board of health informed.

Fowler, the Lovett spokeswoman, strongly denied any lack of cooperation. She said the school sent an email to parents urging them to answer contact tracers’ calls, provided family contact information to health officials, and stayed in touch with the county as the confirmed cases climbed to at least 18 over several days.