As many as 27 students at Bear Creek Middle School in Statham were sent home from or kept out of school due to coronavirus concerns after they were reported to have either a positive test for or direct exposure to COVID-19 on Sept. 22, according to the latest numbers released Thursday, Sept. 24, by the Barrow County School System.
According to the district’s latest online update, four students and six staff members across all of Barrow County’s public schools had confirmed positive COVID-19 tests between Sept. 17-23, while another six students and five staff members were quarantined as a precaution for having a “probable” COVID-19 case — meaning they had both symptoms and direct exposure to someone with a confirmed positive case. During that same time period, 59 students and 20 staffers were quarantined due to direct contact to someone with a confirmed-positive or probable case.
Fifty-one students were impacted Sept. 21-23 as the district was in its first full five-day week of in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year.
School district officials on Thursday declined to release more information about the Bear Creek situation — including whether the students were part of one particular class, how many students were positive for COVID-19 vs. how many were having to quarantine as a precaution.
It was not clear by press time for the Wednesday, Sept. 30 edition of The Barrow News-Journal how many impacted students had returned to their schools.
“Numbers refer to new positive cases of COVID-19 for students, or student direct contacts with someone who has a positive status, reported on the specified day,” according to a message on the district website that is posted below the data. “The amount of time any student has to quarantine varies based on context, so this is not a running count of students out due to COVID-19 quarantines on any given day.”
A spokesperson for the district cited privacy concerns as well as multiple factors with contact-tracing in the decision not to disclose further details. She added that the district, which has been releasing weekly COVID-19 numbers every Thursday, remains committed to transparency.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has requested that school districts submit weekly reports to the department but has taken the position that the public has no legal right to information about any outbreaks the state is investigating, citing an exemption under the state’s open-records law, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week. And the DPH has left public reporting of case counts in schools to individual school districts.
School districts’ reporting to the general public has varied and, whereas Barrow County is releasing a weekly report with daily school-by-school updated numbers of impacted students as well as district-wide numbers for teachers and staff, other districts are only releasing district-wide totals. About 30 percent of the state’s public schools have not complied with the DPH’s request for weekly reports, according to the AJC report.
Thirty-two students in total across BCSS were kept impacted by COVID-19 Sept. 22 — a day after 17 students, including seven at Bethlehem Elementary School and five at Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy, were impacted Sept. 21. Two students went out or were kept home Sept. 23 — one at Russell Middle School and one at Winder-Barrow High School.
The district began the school year entirely online Aug. 17, transitioned to a hybrid in-person/online model Sept. 8 with each grade split into two cohorts, and then moved to five days a week in the school buildings as the reported spread of COVID-19 in the community (average of new daily cases per 100,000) has steadily declined to more favorable levels over the last month.
About 26 percent of the district’s roughly 14,100 students are participating entirely in distance learning. Students have the option to transition either at the end of the first nine weeks or the first semester, depending on their grade level.
Since July 27, when teachers and staffers first returned to campuses for pre-planning, 40 have tested positive for COVID-19 and 261 have been quarantined as a precaution. Since the start of the school year Aug. 17, 10 students have tested positive and 113 have been quarantined. The student numbers prior to Sept. 8 only account for those who had already been on high school campuses and were involved in athletics or other extra-curricular activities.
The district has implemented face mask mandates and several other mitigation measures at each of its schools and facilities in an effort to continue providing in-person instruction, and more than 100 staffers have received contact-tracing training through a Johns Hopkins University program as part of an effort to prevent large outbreaks from occurring. But officials have cautioned that schools might have to revert back to a hybrid model or even be closed if the community numbers spike again.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 11 cases in Barrow County on Tuesday, Sept. 29, bringing the cumulative total to 2,200 since the outbreak began in February. Forty-eight county residents have died of COVID-19, with the most recent death occurring Sept. 20, according to the DPH website. The 47th and 48th deaths weren’t confirmed by the department until Saturday, Sept. 26.