Eleven new cases of COVID-19 have been reported among New Orleans public school students and staff, the district announced Thursday. More than 120 individuals are in quarantine due to possible exposure.
NOLA-PS is currently tracking 13 active cases among six staff members and seven students.
After a virtual start to the school year, all students now have the option to learn in-person at least part-time. Younger students have been back in the classroom since late September and older students began returning last week.
This week’s new cases were reported at Arthur Ashe Charter School, ReNEW Dolores T. Aaron Academy, Dwight Eisenhower Charter School, McDonogh 42 Charter School, New Orleans Accelerated High School, Paul Habans Charter School, Pierre Capdau Charter School and both of Lusher Charter School’s elementary campuses.
All schools are required to report COVID-19 cases to the Louisiana Department of Health. The data is shared at the parish level and does identify individual schools. In Orleans Parish, 56 cases, 25 adults and 31 students, had been reported as of Wednesday.
Since the district began releasing COVID-19 data four weeks ago, cases have been largely isolated with just one reported cluster at Landry-Walker High School.
Two students tested positive for the virus and 71 individuals were quarantined after attending an extracurricular activity, according to the district. At the time students were not yet learning in-person, but have since returned to the classroom part-time.
The district tracker includes cases reported by students and staff regardless of where they contracted COVID-19. Based on the available data, there’s little evidence to suggest that the virus is spreading inside schools.
New research suggests that the risks of reopening schools may have been overblown. Two international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person schooling and the spread of the coronavirus.
The same appears to be true in the United States. So far schools have not been COVID-19 superspreaders, according to anecdotal reports and a crowdsourced database that includes information from more than 2,000 schools.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broadened its definition of what it means to have “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19.
Original guidance instructed individuals who spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of an infected person to quarantine. Now, experts believe those minutes need not be consecutive for the virus to spread.
Based on this change, the number of quarantined individuals associated with each positive case is likely to increase in high traffic environments such as schools, workplaces and other group settings.
In a piece for The Atlantic, database creator Emily Oster writes that even in parts of the country where community spread is high, the number of COVID-19 cases reported by schools remain low. A growing number of experts now believe it’s more dangerous to keep schools closed.
New Orleanians have been hesitant to return their children to the classroom. Forty percent of public school students are still learning entirely online, though they have the option to return to the classroom each quarter. Families can also decide to keep their children at home through the end of the school year.
Symptom screening and testing have been important components of safe school reopening. In New Orleans, students are screened for symptoms before entering the building. The district provides rapid testing for symptomatic students and staff, and recently announced new testing sites where any school member can receive a free COVID-19 test.