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Public School Data Show Uptick In COVID-19 Cases As District Finishes Teacher Vaccinations

Aubri Juhasz
Students play at Akili Academy in the Upper 9th Ward. Nov. 13, 2020.

After holding steady for three weeks, COVID-19 cases associated with New Orleans Public Schools ticked back up last week, according to data released Monday.

Officials are tracking 24 active cases of COVID-19, 21 of which were reported in the last week.

Twenty students and four staff members tested positive for the virus and another 339 people are in quarantine. Until last week, active cases had hovered in the low teens since late February.

Last week’s cases were reported across 14 different schools, according to the district’s COVID-19 tracker.

The highest number of cases were reported at Paul Habans Charter School. Five students tested positive and an additional 85 people were asked to quarantine.

Robert Russa Moton Charter School reported the highest number of quarantine cases. Ninety-five people were asked to quarantine after three students tested positive.

While many New Orleans teachers received their first vaccine dose in late February or early March, inoculation does not grant instant immunity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not consider an individual to be fully vaccinated until two weeks after they have received their final vaccine dose.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. reiterated last week in an interview with New Orleans Public Radio that the district has seen no evidence suggesting that COVID-19 is being transmitted within school buildings.

“I want to be clear. Our schools were never a place where COVID spread,” Lewis said. “You know, if people were testing positive, those things were happening in the community and not in our schools.”

District Wraps Teacher Vaccine Campaign In Less Than Three Weeks

New Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, signaling the end of the district’s initial push to inoculate teachers and school staff.

“I wanted our dedicated teachers and staff on the front lines, in our school buildings, to receive the vaccine first,” Lewis said in a press release. “Their health and safety is of utmost importance, and this will help them feel more comfortable and safe in keeping our students in the classroom.”

Lewis is one of more than 3,300 New Orleans public school employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through district scheduled appointments.

Before K-12 educators gained vaccine eligibility in late February, New Orleans Public Schools established partnerships with several local health providers.

When they were given the go-ahead from the state, the district offered teachers priority vaccine appointments immediately and later sent mobile units to schools to increase access.

Based on initial vaccine availability and teacher demand, school officials said they expected distribution to take between six and eight weeks — a timeline that was ultimately cut in half.

The speedier dispersal was in part due to the federal government’s ability to increase state doses and the decision by some teachers to secure vaccine appointments on their own, effectively shortening the district’s waiting list.

The gap between expressed interest, more than 5,000 teachers told the district they wanted the vaccine, and district-scheduled vaccine appointments likely mean upwards of 2,000 teachers have gotten vaccinated on their own.

District officials said they don’t track this number, but expect “many more school staff received vaccinations through local pharmacies, city- and parish-managed mass vaccination sites, and other vaccination opportunities.”

Now that every teacher who wants a vaccine has had access, Lewis said the district is shifting its attention to assisting other priority groups.

Schools have been encouraged to identify eligible students and help them make vaccine appointments if they’re interested, Lewis told New Orleans Public Radio in an interview Thursday.

NOLA-PS spokesperson Taslin Alfonzo said the district is also setting up additional opportunities for staff to get vaccinated in April.

Initial surveys showed that some of the district’s 8,000 employees who are hesitant now are interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a later date.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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