Clarke County School District officials were cautiously optimistic last week that public schools could reopen soon—but the throngs of football fans in town last weekend might have other ideas.
“For the first time in a while, I’m pleased to report Nurse Amy has some good numbers to report to you guys,” CCSD Director of Nursing Amy Roark told school board members at an Oct. 1 work session. “Our numbers are trending down in Clarke County, as everyone is aware, and I am personally optimistic that they will continue to do so.”
As of last Thursday, Oct. 1, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that Clarke County had 217 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days. That number had dropped to 203 by Tuesday, Oct. 5. One metric for schools to reopen, starting with kindergarten through second grade, is 175 cases per 100,000 in a 14-day window. In addition, UGA reported a third straight week of declining cases, with 63 for the week of Sept. 21. Those numbers were backed up by a drop in the amount of viruses measured in Athens wastewater, although .
However, Roark cautioned that there are still potential pitfalls, including the looming flu season and home football games. The White House Coronavirus Task Force still lists colleges and universities as a major concern in Georgia. An announced crowd of 20,524 mostly maskless and sporadically socially distanced fans gathered at Sanford Stadium for the Auburn game, but it appeared larger on television. Fans also packed into downtown bars while flouting the local mask ordinance, as photographer Whitley Carpenter documented.
Roark said she will continue to monitor COVID-19 cases, as well as other indicators, such as the availability of hospital beds. Interim Superintendent Xernona Thomas said she will recommend a reopening date at the school board’s Oct. 8 meeting.
Ideally, schools will fully reopen for five days a week, Thomas said, because a hybrid online/in-person model presents challenges. For example, CCSD would need buses both to carry students and to deliver meals to those learning at home. “It’s like a web,” she said. “When you flick it, there’s so many pieces that move.”
In addition, despite best efforts, distance learning has not been entirely successful. Chromebooks and internet hotspots are still on back order, and not all students are fully engaged.
“We are excited to say that we’ve made contact with almost 100% of our students,” Chief Academic Officer Brannon Gaskins said. “What we’ve continued to work and struggle with is the level of engagement of all students. We’ve noticed that engagement goes down after lunch, and we are continuing to try to keep our middle school and high school students consistently engaged.”
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