By LEAH WILLINGHAM
Associated Press/ Report for America
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) _ An entire fourth grade class in Mississippi is in quarantine after a student and more than half of a school’s fourth grade teachers tested positive for coronavirus.
Lafayette County School District Superintendent Adam Pugh told The Associated Press on Monday that the district notified the families of more than 200 fourth grade students at Lafayette Upper Elementary School to quarantine for two weeks over the weekend. One student and six out of 10 or 11 total fourth grade teachers have tested positive for the virus, and most of the rest of the fourth grade teachers were exposed, he said.
“We don’t have enough staff to cover our entire fourth grade class in-person, so we had to send everybody home, to do virtual lessons,“ he said.
As students in Mississippi return to school, the state is reporting the most new cases per capita in the past 14 days, according to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Mississippi has risen over the past two weeks from 20.71% on Aug. 9 to 40.83% on Aug. 23.
Lafayette County School District teachers returned to campus on Aug. 3, and students returned to school on Aug. 5. They have reported nine total cases among staff members district-wide and only one case in a student – the one at Lafayette Upper Elementary School.
Pugh said the school is in the midst of contact tracing investigations to figure out whether those who have tested positive for the virus were exposed at school or outside of school.
“I don’t know why it’s just our fourth grade teachers, I can’t answer that question at this point, but we are doing everything we can to mitigate the spread and keep our students and faculty as safe as we can,“ he said. “By teaching them virtually for two weeks, we are trying to separate our teachers and our students.”
Pugh said the district has posted new cases as they are reported on Facebook in an effort to be transparent. School districts in Mississippi are required to report new cases of coronavirus to the Mississippi State Department of Health, which releases numbers by county. The state does not make the number of positive cases in individual school districts public.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported last week that about 2,000 students and 600 teachers are in quarantine; the state has had 245 cases of coronavirus in teachers and about 200 in students since districts began returning to school in late July.
Since returning to school in-person for the school year, the Layafette County School District’s student body has been operating on a split schedule, with only half of the student body in the classroom on any given day. The entire district community was meant to return to school together for the first time on Monday. However, Pugh said that date has now been extended to early September.
The Lafayette County School District has already experienced one loss amid the coronavirus pandemic. Middle school teacher and assistant high school football coach Nacoma James died in early August after quarantining with coronavirus symptoms. He was working with student-athletes to train throughout the summer, but was quarantining when classes started.
Pugh said the district has been trying to find ways to remember James as the school year progresses. He loved wearing bow ties, and some staff have been wearing those to work in his honor. His football team is having a scrimmage Friday night, and James will be on everyone’s minds, Pugh said.
The Health Department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has had at least 78,405 reported cases and at least 2,248 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening. That’s an increase of 511 confirmed cases and eight deaths from numbers reported the day before.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. The virus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most but can be more severe or fatal for some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.