Members of High School Band That Led Rose Parade Come Back With COVID, School Goes Remote

Days after the school's 410-person marching band returned from its performance in the Tournament of Roses Parade last Saturday, an undisclosed number of students in the band and student body at Homewood High School in Alabama tested positive for COVID early this week, prompting the school to switch to remote learning Tuesday.

An email from the school sent to parents of the band members obtained by The Associated Press did not specify the number of positive tests in the band or student body at large, but simply said the school was deciding to switch to remote classes.

"We apologize for this late notice, but we have continued to receive additional reports of positive cases this afternoon and evening. We understand this is not ideal, but we believe eLearning at HHS this week will limit the possible exposure to anyone who may be a close contact to the positive individuals," said a note from superintendent Justin Hefner on the system's website.

The band, advertised as the largest high school marching band in Alabama, had performed four times in the New Year's Day parade in Pasadena, California before accepting the invitation again this year.

The school said the decision was motivated by an "unusually high" number of COVID positives, the same day the parents of band members were notified of the positives among the band.

COVID, Alabama High School Band, Rose Parade
Members of the Homewood High School Patriot Band from Homewood, Ala., perform during the 133rd Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday. Members of the band have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning home, and the entire school switched to virtual classes because of an outbreak. Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press File

The district does not release COVID-19 case numbers by class or organizations, Merrick Wilson, a spokesperson for the Homewood school system in suburban Birmingham, said Friday according to The AP.

Wilson said the district sends reports about COVID-19 cases to the Alabama Department of Public Health, but officials with both the state and county health departments said they were unaware of any problem at the school.

Alabama has one of the nation's highest rates of positive results on COVID-19 tests at nearly 44 percent, and that doesn't include people using at-home tests. With more than 16,580 dead from the illness statewide, Alabama has the nation's third-highest COVID-19 death rate, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Hefner's public Twitter feed includes photos from the California trip that show band members and others in close proximity on a bus and elsewhere and many not wearing face masks, which are recommended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Health officials say social distancing and masks have become even more important because of the omicron variant, which is more contagious than earlier versions of the virus.

Candy Carlson, communications director for the Tournament of Roses, said the organization was saddened to hear about Homewood's cases though officials weren't given any information indicating those resulted from the band's trip to Pasadena.

"The recent surge of COVID-19 as a result of the omicron variant is concerning for all of us. However, we are confident that our strict COVID-19 related protocols enabled us to mitigate those impacts for our parade participants and patrons," the statement said.

It added that of the more than 6,500 participants in this year's parade, 91 percent were vaccinated and the other 9 percent were required to provide proof of a negative test within 72 hours of the event.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.