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Tracking COVID-19: NOLA Public Schools Report 81 New Cases, More Than 800 In Quarantine

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Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
A student arrives at McDonogh 42 on the first day of in-person classes, Sept. 17, 2020.

Nearly half of New Orleans’ public schools have reported at least one positive case of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, according to data released Thursday.

The district is currently tracking 82 active cases — 42 students and 40 staff members — across 40 schools. All but one of the cases have been reported in the last two weeks and 839 people are in quarantine due to possible exposure.

It’s the highest number of active cases reported by the district since schools reopened for in-person learning in late September. Until mid-November, the district reported fewer than 20 active cases each week. The week before Thanksgiving, active cases jumped to 54.

While this week’s data represents cases reported over a two week period, the number of active cases can be compared to past weekly measures since it refers to a snapshot in time and is not cumulative. The district did not report cases last week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Homer Plessy Community School at McDonogh 15 has the largest number of students and staff in quarantine, 192 people, followed by Langston Hughes Academy Charter School with 113 people.

Hynes Elementary Lakeview has the highest number of confirmed cases this week, with five students and one staff member testing positive for the virus. Fifty-two people are quarantining due to possible exposure.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported 110 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff in Orleans Parish during the week of Nov. 23 to Nov. 29. Their count includes public and private K-12 schools.

All New Orleans public schools remain open, according to district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo.

“Currently, no NOLA-PS school is operating fully under virtual learning due to their COVID-19 case counts,” Alfonzo said in an email.

Two weeks ago, ENCORE Academy reverted to online-only learning after the school was the site of a potential COVID-19 cluster. Students resumed in-person instruction on Dec. 2.

There have been no changes to district-wide operations in response to the latest surge of COVID-19 cases. Instead, it’s up to individual schools to respond to positive cases and change their operations as needed, officials said at a press conference last month.

This can include changing school procedures to address potential spread of the virus, or moving individual classrooms online due to quarantine requirements, staffing shortages or facility cleaning.

New Orleans Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said last month that the district was not looking at school operations as “a binary” — either open or closed — but instead as a spectrum.

If health data continues to worsen, Delcour said the district could tighten restrictions in other ways, such as eliminating spectators at athletic events, reducing class sizes, restricting extracurriculars, reducing the number of children served in person, and quarantining individual classes, grades levels or campuses. A system-wide closure would only be used as a last resort.

Despite the uptick in cases, the district said Thursday that other COVID-19 health measures are holding steady. The district has stressed the data-driven nature of its decision making process and follows the same metrics as the city while also considering school specific information.

“While city data show a rise in the average daily new cases, other metrics are staying strong,” the district wrote Thursday. “As a city we are below the 5-percent positivity rate and our community has robust access to COVID-19 testing. These factors and information delivered from our schools show there isn’t a need for a system-wide closure at this time.”

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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