County schools press on amid rising COVID-19

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   Habersham County Schools had a strong grip on COVID-19 through the first two months of the school year, but cases have multiplied as Thanksgiving approaches.

   The schools were up to 20 active student cases and 19 staff members, along with two non-school based support staff for a total of 41 cases on Thursday.

   Tallulah Falls’ upper school has been virtual all week in advance of the holiday break, but Superintendent Matthew Cooper has held firm this week that school officials are determined to remain open.

   Cornelia Elementary was hit hard with six positive cases among the staff reported Thursday with just one day left before Thanksgiving break next week.

   “As long as we have the staff to keep instruction going, we will keep a school or schools open. Cornelia Elementary has the most active cases as of this morning,” Cooper said Thursday. “I consulted with the principal there and she is very confident that their team can continue offering in-person instruction for the Cornelia students. The Cornelia Principal indicated that she wants her school to remain open for their students.”

   Cooper and the Board of Education have praised their administrators, faculty and students for following protocols and keeping numbers low at the schools this semester. But cases have been spiking everywhere including in Habersham County, which also had seen a slowly declining rate until the last week. Georgia Department of Health reports that Habersham County has seen 145 new cases in the last two weeks after 70 in the prior two weeks. The 7-day moving average which had dipped as low as 4.1 has shot back up to 15.4.

   “Our staff members across the system are being very diligent with wearing face coverings and social distancing as much as possible,” Cooper said. 

   “While the number of active cases are at higher levels than we have previously seen, everyone needs to keep the proper perspective on the big picture in our school system, as 11 of 14 schools have two or fewer active student cases. Also, 11 of 14 schools have two or fewer active staff cases. We are sure to continue seeing fluctuations in the number of cases as we go through this year. We will also continue to see situations where the numbers are higher in some schools.”

   Cooper added there was not a specific threshold for closing a school or schools and that the situation would be assessed daily. He said the social media rumor that the schools will go virtual after Thanksgiving is for now unfounded.

   “As of today, we plan to reopen after the Thanksgiving break,” Cooper said. “We are, however, concerned about the impact Thanksgiving will have on the spread of the virus in our county. We will watch things closely after the break but will also do everything possible to keep schools open for our students. Most of us can agree that students are better off in school right now.”