Mask

Jackson County school leaders are looking at mitigation strategies ahead of the upcoming school year as the number of area COVID cases rises.

April Howard, Jackson County School System superintendent, discussed the district’s plans during a called board of education meeting July 23 to approve last-minute personnel moves.

Howard said the school system is seeing some COVID cases in students and staff, adding that district leaders are meeting with school principals to discuss plans for the new school year. The new school year begins July 30.

“We are going to put in place some mitigation strategies, strongly encouraging masks and asking folks if they will wear masks,” said Howard. “That will help us to potentially eliminate the quarantine for them.”

Friday’s board of education meeting shows how quickly the COVID-19 situation can change. Two weeks ago, district leaders were preparing for a “more normal” start to the school year.

But over the past couple of weeks, Jackson County has seen an uptick in its COVID cases.

On July 22, there were 17 new cases reported in Jackson County, bringing the 7-day rolling average of daily cases to 9.4. The month prior (June 22), there were 0 confirmed cases with a rolling 7-day average of 0.9 cases.

The recent increase mirrors the increases seen state- and nation-wide as the Delta variant of the virus spreads rapidly.

“Our principals have worked hard this summer to really build everybody up and prepare to launch an amazing school year and I know they’re still going to do that. But I have to say that it was a little bit of a gut punch when we realized that we’re probably going to be experiencing some of the same types of environments,” Howard said.

Howard added the mitigation strategies will be in line with surrounding districts in the Northeast Georgia RESA, but noted that low county vaccination rates may force the school system to increase mitigation strategies sooner.

“I will say that it’s important that we recognize that Jackson County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the region and so we may be in a position to have to increase our mitigation strategies at an earlier time than others,” said Howard.

In Jackson County, 37% of residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine and 34% are fully vaccinated. That’s below the state average and below the average of the majority of the counties in the Northeast Georgia RESA coverage area:

  • Oconee County — 54% with at least one dose; 51% fully vaccinated
  • Greene County — 50% with at least one dose; 46% fully vaccinated
  • State of Georgia — 45% with at least one dose; 40% fully vaccinated
  • Clarke County — 42% with at least one dose; 39% fully vaccinated
  • Morgan County — 40% with at least one dose; 38% fully vaccinated
  • Oglethorpe County — 37% with at least one dose; 35% fully vaccinated
  • Jackson County — 37% with at least one dose; 34% fully vaccinated
  • Walton County — 36% with at least one dose; 33% fully vaccinated
  • Elbert County — 35% with at least one dose; 33% fully vaccinated
  • Barrow County — 35% with at least one dose; 32% fully vaccinated

In an email July 26, county school system leaders announced a number of guidelines the district will implement in the upcoming school year. Masks will be encouraged and those who don't feel well are asked to stay home. JCSS plans to continue to follow state and federal recommendations that address appropriate protocols for sanitation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

"JCSS encourages our school community to continue to make smart, informed decisions about their health. This important health issue will continue to evolve and these guidelines will adapt and change as needed," the email concluded.

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