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Georgia school starts 1st day of classes, within hours student tests positive for coronavirus

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An elementary school in Georgia opened its doors to students on Monday for the first day of the 2020-21 academic year — also the first time since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March.

Hours later, a Grade 2 student tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the classroom at Sixes Elementary School in Cherokee County to close and the teacher and 20 other students to quarantine for two weeks.

Read more: Coronavirus cases spiked in reopened U.S. schools. Should Canadians be concerned?

“This is the first COVID-19 positive case reported among our students and staff since we reopened schools on Monday morning,” a spokeswoman for the school told the Cherokee Tribune. “Contact tracing was conducted, and all affected students’ parents have been notified.”

But that number soon changed.

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About 14 kilometres away, another elementary school in the district — Hasty Elementary School — said a student in Grade 1 tested positive for the virus on Monday.

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In a letter sent to parents on Wednesday, the school’s assistant principal said although there was exposure, the classroom will remain open.

“All students who have been deemed a ‘close contact’ received a personalized contact from school,” the letter stated. “We have required all ‘close contact’ student and/or staff members to quarantine for 14 days effective immediately; however in this instance, the exposure will not require the closure of this class.”

On Wednesday, a Grade 8 student at Dean Rusk Middle School (also part of the Cherokee County School District) tested positive for COVID-19. The school’s principal wrote parents a letter letting them know of the exposure.

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And an entire kindergarten class at R.M. Moore Elementary School in the same district was sent home Wednesday to quarantine for 14 days after a teacher showed symptoms of COVID-19.

Read more: Canadian parents are setting up ‘pandemic pods’ during coronavirus

When the Cherokee County School District started the school year, it gave parents the choice of in-person or virtual learning. The district does not require that children wear masks in school, according to its reopening plan.

Global News reached out to the district for a comment but had not heard back at the time of publication.

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The district wasn’t the only one in Georgia to get hit with the virus.

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At the end of July, Georgia’s largest school district, Gwinnett County, reported that 260 employees had either tested positive for the virus or been exposed to it.

“As of last Thursday, we had approximately 260 employees who had been excluded from work due to a positive case or contact with a case,” GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach told CNN. “This number is fluid as we continue to have new reports and others who are returning to work.”The district is set to reopen with online learning on Aug. 12.

Read more: Children under 5 may be carrying high levels of coronavirus, study suggests

Despite the high number of COVID-19 cases in the community, some parents held a protest on July 24 demanding that children be allowed to return to in-person learning, according to CNN.Georgia hit a new weekly high for COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, having averaged 51 confirmed deaths from the respiratory illness over the last seven days.Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has fought attempts to mandate mask use in Atlanta.In July, Kemp sued the city and its mayor to stop enforcement of a local mask mandate aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. The governor argued that the city lacks the authority to override his order encouraging but not requiring face coverings.
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The debate on whether to open schools and implement mandatory masks in the U.S. continues as coronavirus cases surge across the country.

As of Thursday, more than 4.3 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S., with more than 150,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

What’s happening right now in the U.S. is a “dumpster fire,” Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, recently told Global News. The amount of uncontrolled spread in the community, in her opinion, made opening schools a bad idea.

However, she also said reopening schools is not necessarily a bad thing in places where the virus is under control.

“There is a pretty reassuring and strong signal that kids are not highly likely to become very ill,” she said. “And there’s a lot of debate as to whether or not having schools open as a place that people congregate in smaller spaces actually is something that we would expect to amplify the community epidemic or not.”

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Whether or not children are high carriers of COVID-19 is still up for debate.

Read more: Children with COVID-19 less likely to spread coronavirus, say doctors

One study, published July 30 in JAMA Pediatrics suggests children younger than age five may have 10 to 100 times greater levels of the coronavirus in the upper respiratory tract compared to older children and adults.

But a review by a Canadian public health think tank suggests otherwise.

The National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools published a review on July 24, saying young children are not a major source of transmission of COVID-19. Instead, it argued that clusters of infections involving children were primarily transmitted through an adult in a home or community environment rather than from a child at school.

— With files from Global News’ Leslie Young and Reuters