Coffee County Schools Superintendent Kelly Cobb announced Thursday morning that masks will continue to be required for students and staff while inside school buildings until further notice.
County schools started out the year with no mask requirement, but after 155 positive cases and 451 students/staff were quarantined from Aug. 2 through Aug. 19, a temporary mask requirement was put in place that would be reevaluated by Sept. 17.
“Each school and community has made it known that they see the value in children being in school with their peers and teachers,” Cobb said at the time of the initial announcement. “We know there is nothing that can replace the relationship that occurs between teachers, students and high-quality instruction. In order to continue this style of learning and experience, we have to accomplish this in a safe manner with as many children at school as possible.”
Even though numbers have improved over the weeks since the requirement was implemented—47 the week of Aug. 24-31, 29 the week of Aug. 31-Sept. 7 and 27 the week of Sept. 7-14—Cobb said she feels it needs to be extended indefinitely.
“When the mask requirement was issued for Coffee County Schools, I stated that we would reevaluate the numbers and local data within Coffee County and consult with local health officials, medical professionals, school nurses, and our leadership team prior to Friday, Sept. 17,” she said. “While I am encouraged by our progress, the reduced number of COVID cases and the number of children not having to quarantine due to being a close contact, I feel that we need to extend the mask requirements inside all Coffee County School buildings until further notice.
“The Coffee County School System’s goal continues to be to keep students in school to receive high-quality face-to-face instruction and to allow extra-curricular activities for all students with as few disruptions as possible. If we all continue to do our part, we can ensure our children can continue to receive the learning experiences they deserve every day.”
Cobb said the district will continue with no restrictions on outdoor activities and will not require the isolation of close contacts as long as the student is symptom-free. The exception to this is if COVID is present in a student or staff’s home.
“If there is a diagnosed case of COVID inside a household, the student/staff member should contact the school nurse, follow ADPH guidelines and follow the process for quarantine,” Cobb said. “We do ask that you be vigilant in monitoring your child’s own health. If they exhibit any symptoms of COVID or any infectious disease, please keep them home.
Cobb also asked for continued patience and support as administrators, school nurses and local health officials work together to make the best decisions for the students in their care.
“As I have stated before, ‘We Are Better Together’ during these most challenging times. We genuinely appreciate your patience, understanding and willingness to do what it takes to keep schools open during this pandemic,” she said.
In the last week, Zion Chapel School reported two cases, New Brockton Elementary reported seven cases, New Brockton High School reported 10 cases and Kinston School reported eight cases.
Since last week’s report on Thursday, the total number of positive cases since March 2020 statewide climbed from 732,151 to 761,865, an increase of 29,714, or about 4,244.9 new cases per day over a seven-day period. The state also recorded 368 new deaths, bringing the total to 12,856, up from the previous week’s death report of 158.
In Coffee County, 303 new positive cases were added over the last seven days, or 43 a day, bringing the total new cases to 8,598 from the previous week’s report of 8,295. The seven-day positivity rating is 21.6 percent with 120 of 555 NAAT tests coming back positive. Health organizations continue to encourage those with COVID symptoms to get formally tested in order to have a better view of community spread and for accurate data.
A new feature to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s COVID dashboard compares 2020 and 2021 totals. Both the majority of new cases and recorded deaths in the county came in 2021: 4,869 new cases and 89 recorded deaths compared to 3,729 cases and 64 deaths on 2020. For the state as a whole, 2021 numbers are catching up to 2020 totals: 388,292 cases and 7,181 deaths in 2020 and 373,573 cases and 5,675 deaths in 2021.