Last week, schools in Corinth, Miss., welcomed back hundreds of students. By Friday, one high-schooler tested positive for the novel coronavirus. By early this week, the count rose to six students and one staff member infected. Now, 116 students have been sent home to quarantine, a spokeswoman for the school district confirmed.
Despite the quick fallout, the district’s superintendent said he has no plans to change course.
“Just because you begin to have positive cases, that is not a reason for closing school,” Superintendent Lee Childress said in a Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday on the school district’s Facebook page.
As districts around the country debate the merits of in-person classes vs. remote learning amid an escalating novel coronavirus pandemic, the Corinth School District’s early experience shows how quickly positive tests can lead to larger quarantines.
Other districts that have welcomed teachers or students back have faced similar challenges. After teachers returned to plan lessons in Georgia’s largest district, 260 district employees were barred from reentering schools because of either testing positive for the coronavirus or being in close contact with someone who had. In southeast Kansas, six school administrators tested positive after attending a three-day retreat. And within hours of opening, a school in Greenfield, Ind., was informed by the health department that a student had the virus.
Some health officials in the Trump administration, which has pushed for schools to fully reopen, are now urging communities with high rates of the virus to rethink in-person classes. On Sunday, Deborah Birx, the White House’s top coronavirus coordinator, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that in hard-hit areas, “we are asking people to distance-learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.”
Mississippi has been among the hardest-hit states in the South and could overtake Florida as the top state for cases per capita, according to researchers at Harvard University. The state has had more than 63,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,800 deaths to date.
On Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said in a Facebook post that he would delay school opening for seventh to 12th grades in hot spots. The governor also mandated masks in schools and ordered a two-week mask requirement for public gatherings.
In Corinth, the school district gave families an option of either sending their children to school buildings or doing distance learning from home.
“We made the decision that even though we had seen a spike in those numbers, that schools needed to reopen and at the same time, schools need to remain open,” Childress said in the Facebook Live broadcast.
According to the district’s reopening plan, students and teachers are screened daily, with their temperatures taken upon arrival at school and checked for symptoms including coughing, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell. Childress said that the district will start midday temperature checks.
When the schools learned of positive coronavirus cases, they used contact tracing and notified students who had been “within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more,” said a memo posted Wednesday on Facebook informing the community of the cases. Seating charts helped the school determine who needed to quarantine, Childress said in the Facebook Live broadcast.
Those students will have to self-quarantine for 14 days and continue school online.
Despite the positive tests and quarantines, Childress said he remained optimistic about the school district’s plans. He encouraged the families to wear masks, and he urged everyone with children in quarantine to stay home until getting their test results.
“We’ve had a good start of school,” Childress said. “We’re going to have some more positive cases. We know that. We know it will happen. We’re going to have to deal with it, and I can assure that we will deal with it and when we impose quarantines on students and staff, we are doing that for a reason.”