900+ Students And Staff Already Quarantined As GA School District Fumbles Reopening

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One of the earliest districts to begin the school year in Georgia has already reported the quarantine of more than 900 students and staff and the closure of one of its schools as administrators try to contain an outbreak of coronavirus on school grounds.

Cherokee County Superintendent Brian Hightower announced Tuesday that Etowah High School would close until Aug. 31.

With 14 confirmed coronavirus cases at the school and results pending on 15 more tests as of Tuesday morning, the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News reported that while students would transition to an online distance learning program until the school could safely reopen.

Etowah High School made headlines last week after a viral photo emerged showing mask-less students standing shoulder-to-shoulder for a group photo on the first day of the fall semester.

In a statement Tuesday, Hightower said that there were already 59 positive COVID-19 tests confirmed among Cherokee County’s students and staff and that the district would begin a mandated a two-week quarantine for 925 students and staff members.

“We are not hesitating to quarantine students and staff who have had possible exposure – even if the positive test was prompted by possible exposure rather than symptoms, as all positive cases can lead to the infection of others.” Hightower said in a statement Tuesday.

“As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance. We know all parents do not believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial, but I believe it and see masks as an important measure to help us keep schools open,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the district, Barbara Jacoby, said in a statement Tuesday obtained by NBC News that the school district had anticipated ahead of schools reopening that “positive tests among students and staff could occur.” She said that the district had put a system into place to contact trace, mandate quarantines, notify parents and report cases to the community. 

In spite of these measures, Cherokee County schools recommend but don’t require students or staff to wear masks. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who sued to block Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms’ mask mandate, said in a news conference with U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams Monday that he was pleased to see schools reopening, adding that aside from the viral photos the week “went real well.”

Hilary Porterfield, a parent of a Cherokee school student, told NBC News last week she was “frustrated” by the handling of the pandemic in schools. She said the positive cases should serve as a “red flag” for the district.

“It’s just a matter of time before it’s out of control,” Porterfield said. 

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