Georgia School District Has 3 Percent of Students in Quarantine After 3 Weeks of Classes

One Georgia school district has sent more than 3 percent of its students to quarantine after less than three weeks of classes as the state contends with surging COVID-19 infection rates, the Associated Press reported. The Columbia County district encompasses 28,000 students, more than 1,000 of which entered quarantine after hundreds of students and employees tested positive for the virus since school resumed on August 5.

If only 1,000 students from the district were sent to quarantine, about 3.6 percent of all students would currently be sheltering at home. Because more than 1,000 students were reported to be in quarantine, the percentage is likely higher.

School leaders from Columbia County said they're mandating masking to curtail the number of students confined to their homes. Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students without symptoms don't have to quarantine as long as everyone in a classroom is wearing masks and at least three feet apart.

"If we are going to be able to complete school from now until May 25, this appears to be our best chance," Columbia County board member Judy Teasley said Tuesday, as reported by The Augusta Chronicle.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Student Wears Mask into School
One Georgia school district has sent at least 3 percent of its students to quarantine after less than three weeks of classes as the state contends with surging COVID-19 infection rates. A student wears a mask as he enters the St. Lawrence Catholic School on the first day of school after summer vacation in north of Miami, on August 18. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

More than half of all Georgia public school students are now required to wear masks in class, according to district announcements tracked by the Associated Press, as many school systems that had sought to let students and parents decide on the divisive issue of face coverings clamp down in the face of soaring COVID-19 infection rates.

At least 55 of Georgia's 180 traditional school districts are now requiring masks in at least some schools, up from only a handful of districts before class started in August. The rules cover at least 945,000, or about 55 percent, of Georgia's 1.7 million public school students.

The shift began in late July, when Atlanta and Gwinnett County schools joined DeKalb and Clayton counties in saying they would require masks. But many other districts tried to open their doors as mask-optional. Some switched positions within days, while others held out for weeks.

During that time, infections leaped. More than 1 percent of school-age children in Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. Children between the ages of 5 and 17 are now more likely than adults as a whole to test positive for COVID-19. The state Department of Public Health reported more than 30 infection clusters in schools statewide, the highest since the epidemic began.

Many districts have been overrun by infections and quarantines, with so many teachers out that they can't staff classrooms. Statewide, 25 districts and charter schools are sending all their students home and going all-virtual temporarily. The coastal Glynn County district, with more than 12,000 students, became the largest to take that step Tuesday. Two districts and a charter school have already returned from timeouts from in-school learning, while at least six districts are closing individual schools. At least seven districts have switched to A/B schedules where students attend class every other day. Overall, more than 100,000 students statewide have been affected by closures or schedule changes.

Republican Governor Brian Kemp has said he opposes mask mandates but wants to let local school districts decide. State Superintendent Richard Woods, who was hospitalized with a breakthrough case of COVID-19 last month, wrote in an opinion piece distributed Tuesday that people should prioritize in-person learning.

"Though issues like mask mandates can divide us, there is more that unites us," Woods wrote. "One unifying belief shared across spectrums is the critical need for in-person learning."

Mask-wearing continues to draw opposition. Dalton and Whitfield County schools are letting parents send a note to school opting their children out of mask requirements. Parents both seeking and opposing mandatory face coverings continue to protest in Cobb County, the state's second largest district. Cobb is part of a ring of conservative-controlled suburban holdouts from the move toward masks, along with Cherokee, Paulding and Forsyth counties.

But the rising tide of illness is pressuring even those districts. Forsyth County Superintendent Jeff Bearden told parents in a written message that the district was launching a campaign to promote voluntary masking among students and staff. He noted that nearly 800 students and 100 staff had active cases of COVID-19.

"Our biggest concern is having sick children attending school and potentially spreading the virus," Bearden wrote.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp Puts On Mask
Over half of all Georgia school districts are now under mask mandates as the state sees a surge in COVID-19 infection rates. Above, Governor Brian Kemp puts on a mask after announcing statewide expanded COVID testing on August 10, 2020 in Atlanta. Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images