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NOLA-PS will stop collecting COVID data from schools, could lift mask mandate by end of Friday

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Aubri Juhasz
A student waits to get a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School on Jan. 27, 2022.

New Orleans’ public schools will no longer report COVID-19 cases to the district’s central office, though state reporting will continue, officials said Monday.

It’s the latest example of the district’s slow return to normal, as it lifts restrictions and rolls back oversight measures two years into the pandemic. The district’s mask mandate, which has been in place since students returned in-person in the fall of 2020, is also set to expire by the end of Friday if current health trends continue.

“If the city-wide numbers continue to remain low, we will look to lift the district’s universal masking recommendation next week,” district superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a statement. “I know our school community is looking forward to returning to a sense of normalcy and seeing our students and staff’s smiling faces.”

The district will continue to update its weekly tracker, but will use data provided by the state instead, officials said. That data is typically shared only at the parish-level.

All Louisiana schools, public and private, are required to share cases and quarantines with the Louisiana Department of Health as soon as they are identified, and district officials said they will continue to obtain and share cases and quarantines reported by each individual school to the state’s health department.

The district will continue its regular reporting procedure through the end of March and will begin sharing cases identified at the state level starting April 11.

There’s still no evidence of a post-Mardi Gras surge in cases, with schools reporting relatively few cases. The district is currently tracking 36 active cases, among 31 students and 5 staff. Cases are spread across 18 schools, and 93 people are in quarantine due to possible exposure.

The district completed nearly 18,000 COVID tests last week with a positivity rate of 0.38%, according to the district.

That’s basically a flatline from last week when 36 cases and 75 quarantines were reported. Just 2,500 tests were completed with a positivity rate of 0.36%.

The district said it plans to continue testing students regularly and will keep sharing the number of tests completed weekly and the positive test rate.

Officials did not provide a full update on the district’s vaccine mandate last week as promised.

The mandate, which requires all students 5 years and older to be fully vaccinated, has been in effect since Feb. 1, but hasn’t been enforced.

In early March, at least 45% of the city’s public school students were fully vaccinated, according to the district, and 60% had received at least one dose.

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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