As cases overwhelm GDPH reporting, local schools return to class after winter break with new COVID-19 protocols

As the Georgia Department of Public Health was unable to give updated statistics on the number of COVID-19 positive cases reported since Dec. 31, 2021 due to the high number of data overwhelming the system, local school school officials are taking the high number of daily cases into account as they plan the student’s return to the classroom on Jan. 4 or 5, 2022. Some are choosing to delay the start, others are choosing to go back virtually at the outset and others are implementing additional COVID-19 protocols to help students and staff ease back in.

Georgia Walton Academy has announced that the students will return to classes virtually this first week due to the additional cases of COVID-19, which has also left the school short staffed. The plan is to return to regular in person classes on Jan. 10.

Walton County School District will return to school on Jan. 4 as had been planned, but have announced additional protocols will be implemented to take the additional cases into account.

“We recognize that cases in our community are currently on the rise, so we are going to implement additional preventative measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities. At this time, increased daily cleaning protocols will be implemented, visitors and large group gatherings will be limited, parents will need to drop off and pick up their children outside the school building, desks will be placed in rows, group work will be minimized in the classroom, and masks are encouraged for all students and staff. These additional measures will be assessed on a weekly basis and are subject to change as we continue to monitor local COVID-19 data,” WCSD Superintendent Dr. Nathan Franklin wrote in a letter to parents Monday in advance of students returning to class Tuesday.

He gave the additional guidelines for students or staff members who are diagnosed with COVID.

Individuals with COVID-19
Students/staff who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will be required to follow DPH guidelines. Currently, these guidelines state that individuals must stay home in isolation for 5 days. WCSD will continue to report positive laboratory-confirmed tests and close contacts to the DPH. 

  • If the positive individual develops symptoms, then they may return to work/school when at least 5 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, and at least 24 hours have passed since the last fever without the use of fever-reducing drugs, and symptoms have improved. 
  • If the positive person never develops any symptoms, then isolation may be discontinued when at least 5 days have passed since the positive laboratory test and there are still no symptoms.
  • If the person chooses to leave isolation after 5 days, the CDC and DPH recommend that the person wear a well-fitting mask for the remainder of 10 days.

Precautionary Quarantines/Contact Tracing
As of December 29, 2021, the Georgia Department of Public Health’s latest Administrative Order continues to support school districts in developing local quarantine procedures to facilitate in-person learning (page 5, number 7). WCSD will continue to utilize this flexibility in setting optional quarantine procedures for those exposed in close contact.

  • School officials will continue to contact trace and notify close contacts to request that students/staff monitor for symptoms. 
  • Those identified as close contacts will not be required to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic but may choose to do so. Absences for students who choose to quarantine as a result of close contact exposure will be excused for up to 10 days.
  • The CDC and DPH recommend that those identified as close contacts should wear a well-fitting mask for 10 days.

Social Circle City Schools plan on returning on Wednesay, Jan. 5 and have included an info-graphic to explain the quarantine guidelines that the school system will be implementing this semester. SCCS Superintendent Dr. Robbie Hooker gave the following changes to the quarantine processes that will be used.

  • If students or staff members are exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual and are not symptomatic, they may choose to return to school or work while wearing a mask for 10 days following the exposure.
  • If students or staff members are COVID-19 positive, they must quarantine for a minimum of 5 days after exposure and must wear a mask for 10 days after exposure while around others.
  • COVID-19 positive individuals who are not comfortable wearing a mask for 10 days must quarantine for the full 10 days.

At this time, Loganville Christian Academy plans to return to the classrooms on Jan. 4 with the same protocols as were implemented since the beginning of the school year.

Monroe County Day School has decided to delay returning to school until Monday, Jan. 10 due to the current large number of cases. Dr. Rita Dickinson notified her staff and parents of students that she had made this decision due to the 490 % increase in cases in Walton County over the past two weeks. She noted that Rockdale County Schools also will be returning virtually until next week and that Newton County is requiring all students to wear masks.

“Everything I have read has said it has to be N-95 mask and correctly used to be effective against Omicron. I just don’t see us being able to enforce that. Children just don’t understand that they can’t stick their hand under the mask to scratch their nose,” Dickinson said. “I see no need to do virtual learning 4th-7th because the kids do not have their books and most teachers are starting new material. I built in more days this year just because of the last 2 years.”

Dickinson noted that there is some good news, namely that Omicron appears to peak quickly and move on out and the new quarantine time is 5 days.

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